As the country reels from the latest mass shooting at a school, a new state report reveals that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools intercepted 19 guns at school last year, far more than any other district in North Carolina.
It marks a 10-year high, in a year when the statewide total declined from 118 to 105. CMS accounts for about 10 percent of total enrollment but almost 20 percent of last year’s guns on school grounds.
The guns were found at schools scattered across the county, including three elementary schools and a selective middle school magnet. None resulted in shootings, and the perennial question is whether CMS has an unusual number of armed students or an especially effective detection system.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Thursday he hopes it’s the latter. The district urges students to speak up if they know a classmate has a weapon, he said, and some firearms are intercepted before the student even enters the building. A gun counts toward the tally if it’s found on school ground.
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“The important statistic for me, while we had 19 guns, we did not have a shooting,” Wilcox said.
Wake County, the only North Carolina district larger than CMS, found 13 guns in 2016-17, up from only one the previous year. New Hanover County, a much smaller district than Wake and CMS, had 12.
According to the 2016-17 school crime and violence report, Garinger, Mallard Creek and West Charlotte high schools each had three guns last year, while Rocky River High had two. Eight other schools reported a single gun: Ashley Park PreK-8 School, Crestdale Middle, Hopewell High, Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, Palisades Park Elementary, Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, Randolph Middle and Winget Park Elementary.
That might come as news to students and families. Wilcox says CMS doesn’t notify families about guns unless there’s a threat to students.
CMS is reviewing its school safety systems, including physical protection and staff training, after a former student gunned down 17 students and faculty at a Florida high school on Feb. 14.
The presence of guns and violence in schools often reflect trends in the community. Last year saw a spike in homicides in Mecklenburg County, though overall violent crime decreased slightly. Police Chief Kerr Putney has cited the prevalence of illegal guns as one factor in the surge of killings, and the Violent Crime Task Force recently concluded an eight-month investigation with 45 arrests on gun and drug charges.
The largest number of firearms reported in CMS was 28 in 2006-07. The district saw a sharp drop starting in 2008, but the number have risen the last two years.
On Wednesday the Observer requested the tally of guns found at CMS schools so far this year, but the district has not yet provided that information.
KIPP Charlotte, a charter school in northeast Charlotte, reported two guns last year, the only North Carolina charter school to report any.
The tallies are part of the state’s annual report on crime and violence in public schools, which covers such incidents as possession of alcohol, drugs and weapons, assaults on students and staff and sexual offenses. It will be presented to the state Board of Education next week.
In CMS the total number of acts reported went down, from 1,371 to 1,198.
Drugs and weapons other than firearms, such as knives and pellet guns, account for the bulk of offenses across the state.