The question of how to discipline Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students charged in violent off-campus crimes came up for debate Thursday, after news spread of four East Mecklenburg High students being arrested, accused of beating a man in a business parking lot.
All four were back on campus within days, leaving some instructors worried about possible disruptions and student safety. One teacher complained that school leaders kept the arrests hushed up, leaving teachers to find out via word of mouth on campus.
“I’m not concerned about them being re-admitted as much as I am concerned about not being told what happened when they were arrested – and they are sitting in my class like a ticking time bomb,” said the teacher, speaking anonymously to avoid reprisal.
“I don’t expect that child would be a problem automatically, but someone who is under that kind of stress? Who knows what can happen. What if another student says something about the arrest, and suddenly I’ve got a fight on my hands? We’ve been told nothing.” The Observer reached out to five teachers at the school, but several did not return messages.
School board members contacted by the Observer were cautious, with one noting “broad generalizations are a dangerous thing.”
The CMS student handbook says students charged with a crime committed off-campus can be disciplined by CMS. It also says that out-of-school suspension should be reserved for those situations where other options have not been effective. Principals can institute suspension, if it is believed necessary to protect other students and preserve an orderly school environment.
School board member Tom Tate says he sees merit in the policy.
“Our purpose is to keep kids in school, not force them out. Keeping them in school is the only way we can have an influence,” said Tate.
As for briefing teachers on campus about off-campus arrests, Tate said the district has legal obligations surrounding student privacy. “We have to communicate with the teachers to make sure they understand what’s happening … but legal things can be difficult to negotiate, in terms of making sure we only do what we’re allowed to do.”
CMS police Officer Randy Hagler said in-school suspension is one possibility for students. He declined to comment on the cases of the four East Meck students.
“We try a lot of alternatives to suspension, because we know it doesn’t do any good to send kids home to stay. That’s the last thing they need, particularly if they are in trouble and have a court date coming up. They need to be in school as much as they can.”
The four teens were arrested April 29 and charged with beating and inflicting serious injury in the April 27 attack on Lewis Aaron Boatwright, 31. Police said Boatwright was left unconscious and in need of hospitalization. The incident allegedly occurred in a car dealership parking lot at 6030 E. Independence Blvd. at about 3:30 p.m.
Carolinas Medical Center said Thursday that Boatwright has been released after an unspecified period of treatment. Boatwright could not be reached for comment.
CMS officials said they won’t comment on the matter because it is part of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department investigation. However, district spokeswoman Vicki Grooms said in a statement that the district is “always concerned about the safety of students and staff at all campuses and works to ensure a safe teaching and learning environment.”
“We would encourage any teacher or student who has concerns about individual safety to please address those concerns with the school administration,” she said in the statement.
The four teenagers arrested in the incident are Christalsia Harris, 18; Kara Gordon, 17; Jonathan Murphy, 18; and Marquis Hartage, 18, police said. The students and their families could not be reached for comment. Records show none of the four has been convicted of any crimes.
School Principal Richard Parker was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Superintendent Ann Clark did not immediately return calls late in the day.
East Meck students who spoke with the Observer off campus said they weren’t concerned Thursday about the four students returning to school.
“As long as we’re on campus, we’re safe,” said Danasia Robinson, a freshman. “No one will come up to you there.”
Her friend, Teonna Dawkins, also a freshman, said teachers were more concerned than students. She said one of her teachers discussed the case during class. “We talked about how we felt about it,” she said.
Freshman Max Fennett also said students aren’t worried. “As long as I don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with me,” Fennett said
Steve Harrison, Adam Bell and Maria David contributed.