CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools plans to randomly select a school to screen for weapons during the last full week of January as part of its continuing response to the fatal shooting that occurred in October at Butler High School.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox worries that security measures, such as portable metal detectors, will eat into school instructional time. He wants to pilot the process at a single school to ensure it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes.
“We hope to not find weapons,” Chief of Staff Laura Francisco said. “We hope this will increase students’ awareness of why bringing a weapon to school is never a good idea.”
CMS is piloting three screening models:
The first model involves full school screening, in which every student will go through portable metal detection and bag searches similar to athletic events or graduations.
The second model confines screening to every student that enters a single building.
The third model uses a gunpowder detection dog that processes bags and coats in randomly selected classrooms, as students are screened in the hallway.
Wilcox explained how CMS has tried to be mindful of its approach. Screeners aren’t looking for students wearing baggy pants or sweatshirts, but focusing on every student that enters a randomly selected classroom, building or school.
Wilcox said the district decided not to focus weapon screening solely on schools where they’ve previously found guns.
“That in my mind said we were targeting kids who were black and brown because that’s where we had found the guns,” he said. “We’ve tried as a system to be very thoughtful about that and sensitive to that.”
CMS wants to ensure there’s gender balance among search teams and screening occurs in well-traveled areas in front of cameras, Wilcox said.
“I wish we weren’t in this position, but we live in a society where guns have become all too prevalent,” Wilcox said. “ Quite frankly, it’s not anything I think any of the professional staff in this district ever thought they would find themselves doing.”
Wilcox said administrators resisted wanding to the last possible moment, but the shooting at Butler High School “changed the game in this community.”
That shooting left 16-year-old Bobby McKeithen dead and 16-year-old Jatwan Cuffee facing murder charges.
Kendall Sanders, a junior at Northwest School of the Arts, serves as the school board’s student representative. She asked during the Jan. 8 meeting if students would be punished if they did not allow someone to search them or refused to go through metal detection.
“We might give them alternatives to it, but we can’t simply say to a child, ‘You don’t have to go through this security process,’” Wilcox replied. “The effort here is to keep guns out of schools. If we allow kids to simply say, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ they may be the very person who has the gun.”
Francisco outlined a number of other measures the district is employing to prevent weapons from being brought into schools.
The district has placed a priority on elementary schools when it comes to surveillance, ensuring better views of playgrounds and mobile units. Upgrades have been completed at 11 schools with 15 estimated to be done at by the end of the month.
CMS has repaired and upgraded fencing at 13 schools. The district is adding door locks to 45 sites and expects to add upwards of 350 locks through April.
CMS hired a detective in October to lead active survival training. So far, the detective led two-hour training sessions at seven high schools, three middle schools, five elementary schools and five non-school departments.
Other protocols include implementing a crisis alert system in employee badges. This system will be expanded to eight schools this month and eight more through March.