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CMS gang report stirs concerns

A new report on gangs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools raises questions about whether some principals are more aggressive than others in reporting gang activity on their campuses.

The report, which sparked debate during a school board meeting Tuesday, identified about 70 gangs with about 450 members in local schools. A chart in the 40-page report showed five years worth of middle and high school violations of a CMS anti-gang rule.

The numbers varied so widely from school to school and at times from year to year that school board member George Dunlap questioned how much of the data reflected differences in school principals' reporting habits rather than actual gang activity.

Suburban high schools, such as South Mecklenburg and Butler, reported only a few incidents in the five-year period. But so did urban high schools, such as Garinger and Harding, both of which reported just one violation apiece.

Sometimes the numbers in particular schools varied greatly from year to year. Violations at Eastway Middle went from 23 in 2004-05 to two the following year. The number at West Mecklenburg High zoomed from seven in 2005-06 to 46 the following year.

At a news conference Wednesday, Superintendent Peter Gorman said he wants principals to report gang activity accurately, but suspects inconsistency. He said the district must walk a fine line between acknowledging the gang problem and taking caution not to overdramatize it.

Eastway Principal Anne Brinkley said she has been at the school only 21 days, having previously served as principal at Hidden Valley Elementary. She said she suspects in some cases, school officials might not have enough training to know whether a child's hand gesture or notebook drawing is truly gang-related.

During her tenure at Hidden Valley, she said, she didn't see overt gang activity among her students. But when police in 2007 busted the Hidden Valley Kings in the city's largest crackdown on gang crime in 25 years, she invited officers to train her staff on recognizing signs of gang activity.

“I just felt we needed to know what to look for,” she said. “Maybe the training hasn't been intense enough for people to know.”