Education

What’s next with CMS school gun searches? Here are answers to five questions.

CMS draws school names for gun searches

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools selects eight high schools for gun searches that will begin soon.
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Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools selects eight high schools for gun searches that will begin soon.

After searching 32 classrooms in eight high schools this week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials say they’ve learned some things but have a lot left to work out.

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox says he’s trying to deter students from bringing guns while minimizing disruption to the school day. This week his staff started small, taking security teams into four classrooms each at eight high schools chosen in a public drawing Monday.

No guns or other weapons were found, though the bag searches did turn up pepper spray, over-the-counter medication (which is banned) and tobacco. Wilcox said Friday afternoon he has been pleased at how cooperative students and faculty have been.

The balance between deterrence and disruption remains difficult, however. The small-scale searches mean less than 10 percent of students get screened. Screening all students — something Wilcox has said the district will do — is going to take several hours unless something changes.

Here’s we know and don’t know about what comes next.

1. When and how will CMS screen a whole school?

Wilcox declined to say, but said he expects to work up to it — perhaps doing more classrooms or one classroom building before tackling a multi-building campus or a newer school housed in one big facility.

The four-room screenings have taken 35 minutes to a little over an hour, with search teams going to selected classrooms. At that pace screening all students would take most of a school day.

A full-school search will involve moving students to one or more central screening points, CMS officials have said. That is likely to create more disruption as large groups of students move through the halls and wait their turn.

2. Which schools are up next?

Garinger, Rocky River, Harding, Mallard Creek, Independence, West Mecklenburg, Olympic and South Mecklenburg were drawn from a bin holding the names of the district’s 19 full-size high schools on Monday.

Wilcox and Russ say being checked once doesn’t exclude a school from further screenings. They say there will be another random drawing, but didn’t have details on the timing.

3. Will there still be gun dogs?

Wilcox said Friday that CMS is still checking ways to get a dog that can sniff for gunpowder, including buying one or contracting for short-term use. The original plan called for students to step out of classrooms, leaving their bags behind for a dog to sniff while the students are wanded in the hall.

4. Will gun screenings become a regular event?

There were two screenings a day this week, but Wilcox says that pace won’t continue. Once the trial phase is over, he said he expects screenings to become much less common.

5. Who’s keeping an eye on this?

Members of the CMS Interfaith Advisory Council are monitoring the school selection and screenings in hopes of ensuring public confidence, fairness and respectful treatment of students.

CMS has asked anyone with questions or concerns about the screenings to contact the CMS ombudsman’s office, ombudsman@cms.k12.nc.us or 980-343-0055.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education for the Observer since 2002, long enough to watch a generation of kids go from preK to college. She is a repeat winner of the North Carolina Press Association’s education reporting award.
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