Congressman says CMS is pushing anti-gun agenda, asks feds to investigate

Congressman says CMS is pushing anti-gun agenda, asks feds to investigate
Rep. Robert Pittenger (Credit: Jenna Eason | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Ann Doss Helms/The Charlotte Observer) - Congressman Robert Pittenger said Friday that he wants U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to look into reports that schools are indoctrinating students with an anti-gun political agenda.

His prime example: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' reaction to a principal's videotaped remarks about gun culture, delivered during a student "walkout" at Collinswood Language Academy on April 20 to demand safer schools. Student organizers and several parents said the impromptu comments, which interrupted a guest speaker, were bizarre and inappropriate.

In response to a Charlotte Observer query, CMS said that "appropriate actions have and will be taken to address concerns regarding this incident."

"Incident? An educator shared a different viewpoint with her students and encouraged them to get to know her. Quick! Call the thought police," Pittenger wrote in a weekly column for The Robesonian newspaper.

Pittenger, a Republican whose 9th District includes Charlotte, wrote that he has heard other reports of Charlotte administrators helping plan anti-gun protests, failing to inform parents and forcing students to attend those events even if they wanted to opt out.

He wrote that he is "leading a congressional letter" to DeVos asking "if her department is aware of any similar incidents across the country, if the Department of Education will investigate, and if the Department of Education has a mechanism to receive complaints related to political agendas being pushed on students."

Students at several CMS schools, as well as counterparts in district, charter and private schools around the region and across the country, staged walkouts and rallies for safer schools on March 14, a month after a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

PREVIOUS: Thousands of CMS students walk out of class to tackle gun violence

Administrators have worked with students on events during the school day that focus on remembering the victims, registering voters and encouraging civic engagement. School officials have said those events steer clear of promoting specific political solutions.

Charlotte students also took part in the worldwide March For Our Lives event that took place on a Saturday. That event, organized by survivors of the Florida shooting and backed by celebrities and political activists, had a more partisan tone and pushed gun control measures.

The student-led event at Collinswood, a K-8 English-Spanish magnet school in south Charlotte, drew attention because a student video of the principal's remarks got media coverage.

Principal Jennifer Pearsall is shown talking about her love of shooting clay pigeons and her memories of young hunters bringing their guns to school when she was a teen.

"And it wasn't a problem. And we weren't worried about the safety," Pearsall says in the video. "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."

CMS has not released details of the "appropriate actions" taken, citing personnel privacy.

Jenna Fryer, the mother of one of the student organizers, said Pearsall and her supervisor met with about 10 students and apologized. "The kids accepted her apology," Fryer said.