Education

CMS principal whose school gun-rally outburst went viral has been reassigned

Charlotte principal's gun comments raise concerns

A student shot this video of Principal Jennifer Pearsall interrupting a speaker at Friday's anti-gun walkout event at Collinswood Language Academy.
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A student shot this video of Principal Jennifer Pearsall interrupting a speaker at Friday's anti-gun walkout event at Collinswood Language Academy.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has reassigned the Collinswood Language Academy principal whose unscripted pro-gun remarks at a student-led "walkout" left some people baffled and others irate.

Jennifer Pearsall, who has led the K-8 language magnet school since 2015, "will be transitioning out of the leadership role at Collinswood Language Academy to serve students from a new role in the district," Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said in a note sent to Collinswood families Monday. Friday was the last day of school for students.

Neither Wilcox nor Pearsall, whose note to her staff was included with Wilcox's message, said what the new job is. A CMS spokeswoman said Tuesday she's checking on that.

On April 20, Collinswood students joined counterparts across the country in a National School Walkout to demand safer schools and promote gun restrictions that might avert future school shootings. Pearsall, who worked with eighth-graders to organize the outdoor event, interrupted a guest speaker to talk about how much she enjoys shooting skeet and to reflect on her school days, when young hunters pulled up to school with their guns openly displayed.

"And it wasn't a problem. And we weren't worried about the safety," Pearsall said. "They were out doing their sport that their daddies had done and their granddaddies had done and their great-granddaddies had done on the land that they grew up on. We don't want to change that. That is American culture."

Some student organizers said those comments struck them as bizarre and rude in that context. A student who was shooting video of the event captured Pearsall's remarks, which were shared with Collinswood parents.

After parents sent the video to the superintendent's office, Pearsall's supervisor, Nancy Brightwell, sent a message to Collinswood families saying that "appropriate actions have and will be taken to address concerns regarding this incident." The message said that an administrator "interjected comments that detracted from the students' event and took focus away from the event's intended purpose."

An Observer article on the video was also widely viewed and commented on. Some called the principal's behavior out of line, while others said she was being punished for legitimate pro-gun views. Congressman Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose district includes parts of Charlotte, cited the episode as an example of CMS promoting an anti-gun agenda and asked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to investigate.

This week's CMS message announcing the reassignment does not mention the incident or any reason for the change.

"It has been my great honor and a joy to lead and collaborate with the most engaged, dedicated staff I have had the pleasure to serve at Collinswood Language Academy," Pearsall's message to staff says. "Together, we have focused on high-quality instruction and we have prepared high-achieving, bilingual, biliterate and culturally proficient students to achieve in the years ahead."

Collinswood students learn in both Spanish and English. Wilcox said the district will soon begin a process for choosing a new principal, with families involved.

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Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms
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