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New school year brings more security to CMS

This week’s shooting at an elementary school in Georgia was a reminder to CMS administrators why the school system is making a $19.3 million upgrade to security.

On Tuesday, a man with an assault rifle and other weapons exchanged gunfire with officers at an elementary school in Decatur, Ga., before surrendering. No one was injured, but the suspect exchanged gunfire with police.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools doesn’t plan further changes because of the shooting, CMS interim police Chief Randy Hagler said.

“We already had stepped up security measures,” Hagler said Wednesday.

Some of those changes will be visible when classes begin.

Students will be issued identification tags and will be required to wear them at all times. Visitors to campus will have to buzz in at the front doors, which will be locked. Dozens of security cameras will be in place at each school.

“We are taking every step possible to keep our students, staff and visitors safe,” Hagler said.

Some of the preparations are taking place out of the public eye. CMS and police have conducted at least five drills in the past two months, simulating a shooter-on-campus scenario.

And some safety measures are still playing out. CMS is studying the best way to control access at six high schools that have buildings spread out over large campuses -- East Meck, Harding, Myers Park, South Meck, West Charlotte and West Meck -- while allowing students enough freedom to change classes.

Principals at all CMS schools are conducting classes with teachers and other staff members to go over stepped-up security measures.

Mecklenburg County commissioners last spring approved the extra funding to CMS for improved campus security, in the wake of deadly shootings in Connecticut and last year in Chardon, Ohio.

Some of the measures got a dry run last spring at James Martin Middle School in the University City area. On Wednesday, Martin Middle Principal Jeremy Batchelor said he was impressed at how well the system worked – specifically, the locked front door and buzzer system, and the student ID tags.

“The kids were really good,” Batchelor said. “A few of them didn’t like their photos, and we had cases when the tags were lost. But we had a time each day when we made new tags.”

Batchelor said the tags help administrators determine who should and shouldn’t be on campus.

He said parents also responded well to the increased entrance security measures.

“I don’t recall a single parent complaining,” he said. “They all seemed appreciative.”

CMS worked with Bridgeway Solutions to produce the ID tags. The tags carry the individual schools’ colors and mascots and include photos. They also can be used at cafeteria cashier stations, and CMS spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said the cards eventually could be used to check out materials from media centers.

“It really speeds up the lunch process,” Stalberte said.

Hagler said the key part of the security improvements surround tightening access to the schools by visitors. Those pressing the buzzer at front doors will be asked for their names and the reason they are visiting. Batchelor said Martin Middle set up a separate greeting station in the hallway, just inside the front door.

There are other security enhancements.

The number of cameras on school property has been increased from 2,500 to 6,500. There will be about 75 cameras at most high schools, 48 at middle schools, and 24 at elementary schools. Front-office personnel will be able to press so-called “panic buttons” to alert police, if they see anything suspicious happening on the cameras.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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