CMS to expand weapons searches to middle schools, implement crisis alert system

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will implement new safety measures this upcoming school year, the district announced Wednesday, including a new crisis-alert system and expanding weapons searches to middle and K-8 schools.

Superintendent Earnest Winston and CMS Police Chief Lisa Mangum emphasized the importance of “see something, say something,” noting that many of the guns found at CMS schools this past year came after students alerted adults.

“Our students’ and staff’s safety and security is dependent on all of us,” Winston said. “Inside the classrooms, on all of our campuses, in our homes and in our neighborhoods, safety and security is everyone’s responsibility.”

The alert system, already installed in all CMS high schools, consists of a panic card that all staff will receive. Staff members can trigger the system by pressing the card, which alerts the central office and the school of an emergency. The cards can be traced to where they were pressed, and will trigger a system of beacon lights affixed to the ceiling and verbal alarms installed in the schools. The alert can only be turned off by someone in the central office, after staff sent to the room can confirm there is no ongoing emergency.

CMS also began using a gun-sniffing dog over the summer for random weapons checks, in addition to a drug-sniffing dog. The canines search bags for contraband while the students are screened outside the room, never directly interacting with students.

The random screenings were begun after a fatal shooting at Butler High School on Oct. 29 and are designed to deter students from bringing weapons to schools. The searches are conducted in randomly-selected schools and classrooms, where all students from a chosen class are screened with metal-detecting wands or go through a stationary metal detector while their bags are searched.

CMS plans to expand its random screenings to middle and K-8 schools this school year. Only one search, at a summer school site in June, has resulted in a gun being found since they began in January.

“Guns should not be on or anywhere near our schools, ever,” Winston said. “These screenings were non-invasive and very successful in sending a powerful message that weapons are not allowed in CMS schools.”

Over the summer, the district began conducting building-wide random screenings, where all classrooms in a standalone building were searched. The largest search involved 17 classrooms, and officials said the portable metal detectors helped increase the efficiency of those screenings.

Other safety measures for the upcoming school year include expanded video surveillance and active survival training for all employees. The district employees around 19,000 people, and more than 8,000 have gone through the training. The district has also invested in physical improvements to schools, such as stronger doors and locks and digital access controls for main entrances.