In response to growing violence and guns found on campus, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools started randomly searching students for weapons again at the beginning of the school year, but district records reveal those safety screenings have failed to turn up any guns.
No guns found during screenings:
CMS data show the unannounced screenings of more than 6,200 students in 300 classrooms at more than 20 schools since September have led to the confiscation of knives, stun guns and pepper spray, but no guns.
"We kept some things away," CMS Board of Education Member Rhonda Cheek said. "Pepper spray, knives, things like that are dangerous to have in the classroom. We don't want that. Is it successful, because we didn't find guns? I don't know if I would label it a success. It could be a deterrent in some of our schools. Some kids are brazen and bringing guns even though they know they might be searched."
Cheek has remained outspoken in recent months. She said she's afraid CMS isn't doing enough amid an unusually dangerous school year. She continues to call for metal detectors.
"Right now I want our schools, our staff, our students to feel staff," she said. "That's how they're going to do their best in school."
CMS safety screenings:
CMS reinstituted safety screenings of select classrooms in September. The district describes those screenings as, at the least, using handheld metal detectors to wand students, in addition to visually checking their bags.
The data show the district has targeted more than 20 schools, most of them high schools. Records show CMS has screened students in some of those schools (Harding, Hopewell, Mallard Creek) multiple times. Meanwhile, CMS has only screened students at some schools once each, including the largest high schools in the state (Ardrey Kell and Myers Park).
According to a CMS spokesperson, the district doubled the number of random screenings conducted before winter break.
"The district has emphasized screenings at the schools where the highest numbers of firearms have been found this school year, and in some cases schools have requested additional screenings," Assistant Superintendent of Communications Patrick Smith said.
Lawmaker calls for review of program:
Rep. Terry Brown (D), NC-92, sees a need for the district to review the program.
"I think it's certainly worth a look seeing what the protocol is for those security screenings, seeing if there's any gaps in the systems there, seeing what we can do to strengthen those systems because you would think with the number of guns we know we have found on CMS property, for the screenings not to show any guns, it might warrant a second look," Rep. Brown said.
In the meantime, the lawmaker said he's committed to ensuring school resource officers and the district have the state resources they need to address the gun problem.
"We're never going to be able to monitor exactly every single thing that comes into our school, but we can make sure we can do as much as we can to prevent students from getting their hands on weapons and bringing them into the school system," he said.
Separate from the safety screenings, police have confiscated more than 20 guns on CMS campuses so far this school year. According to a CMS spokesperson, tips from students or staff members led to searches in many of those cases.
"I wish we didn't have to have random searches. I wish we weren't talking about adding body sensors in some of our schools," Cheek said. "I think the best way to approach it is to have the multi-faceted approach that we're doing."
Cheek knows safety screenings alone won't solve the problem, especially since gun violence originates in the community, but she said it is on CMS to come up with an actual plan with real solutions. Cheek said she's still waiting on Superintendent Earnest Winston to deliver that plan.
"I wanted to see a comprehensive safety program by the end of the first semester and I haven't seen it yet," she said. "(It's) very frustrating."
Changes to screenings:
In a statement, CMS detailed some of the changes the public can expect in the near future, including possible body scanning equipment. At the same time, the district defended its screening program.
"CMS believes random screenings are an important tool as part of a multifaceted safety program," Smith said. "We recently introduced the Say Something anonymous reporting system, and training sessions for students in grades 6-12 will be complete at the end of this week. Distribution and implementation plans for clear backpacks for high school students are being finalized. This is important because almost all guns found on campuses in the first semester were inside backpacks. Some of our schools have instituted programs where adult volunteers monitor hallways and common areas. We soon are likely to announce the installation and implementation of body scanning equipment in some of our schools. Additional efforts to add to the overall safety platform will be announced soon, and will include direct-to-student communication about the importance of avoiding violence."
Records show CMS confiscated more over-the-counter medication than anything else, identifying the banned item 187 times. Any kind of medications, including prescriptions, are supposed to be reported to the school nurse and remain under the school nurse's control. District data show the screenings have also turned up 97 vapes, 81 lighters, 79 pepper sprays, 29 knives/edged blades, 27 prescription medications, 14 marijuana/THC, 12 stun guns and 10 drug paraphernalia.
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