Guns found on CMS students dropped by half last year after reaching a 10-year high

The number of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students bringing guns to school fell by half last year compared to the previous year, says an annual report on crime and violence in the state’s public schools.

CMS found 19 guns at schools — including three elementary schools — in the 2016-17 school year. The Observer reported that the number was far higher than at any other North Carolina school district and marked a 10-year high for CMS.

Nine CMS students were found with firearms in 2017-18, according to data posted Wednesday by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“CMS holds the safety and security of students and staff as top priorities,” CMS chief communications officer Tracy Russ said in a statement about the report. “The district’s efforts to strengthen comprehensive Circle of Safety measures continue at all schools, including safety screenings, additional student supports, technologies, training and equipment upgrades.”

No shootings resulted in CMS schools in 2016-17, despite the high number of gun-possession incidents. But tragedy struck CMS eight months after a former student gunned down 17 high school students and faculty members in Parkland, Fla., in February 2017.

A Butler High School student, Bobby McKeithen, 16, was shot and killed in a school hallway last Oct. 29. Jatwan Craig Cuffie, also 16, was charged with second-degree murder. The shooting followed a fight three days earlier.

CMS began random screenings for guns, with apparent misgivings, in January as the district tried to respond to the fatal shooting.

“I want our students to know that I feel school is a sanctuary. It’s a safe place for them. And it’s incredibly hard to convey that feeling when you have kids marched into metal detectors (and) wanded,” Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said in January. “... This is in many ways kind of a gross indignity that we are subjecting them to.”

The first searches, of 32 classrooms at eight high schools, found no guns or other weapons. But a student was caught with a gun at South Mecklenburg High in February, less than three weeks after a random screening had been conducted there.

N.C. legislators on Wednesday refiled a bill that would create “teacher resource officers,” who could be armed on campus and get supplemental pay. The bill died in committee last year.

Statewide, the reportable crime rate dropped 1 percent from the previous year among all students and 2 percent among high school students. The statistics cover 16 crimes, the most common of them possession of controlled substances or weapons and assaults on school staff.

CMS’ overall crime rate rose by 8 percent from the previous year, from 8.2 crimes for every 1,000 students in 2016-17 to 8.8 crimes in 2017-18. Possession of controlled substance charges rose from 432 to 604 crimes. Sexual assaults jumped from eight to 23.

CMS high school students had a much higher reportable crime rate of 16.3 per 1,000 students, well above the statewide rate of 11.9 percent and an increase from the previous year’s rate of 13.7. High schoolers in North Carolina’s two other largest districts, Wake County and Guilford County, had crime rates of 10.7 and 14.1 respectively.

Bruce Henderson writes about transportation, emerging issues and interesting people for The Charlotte Observer. His reporting background is in covering energy, environment and state news.