CMS interim superintendent discusses current safety measures, efforts to reduce violence in schools

Thirty guns were reported and found on multiple campuses since August
Since the second day of school on August 26, 30 guns were reported and found at multiple campuses including K-8, middle, and high schools.
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 8:10 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The end of the 2021-2022 school year for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is here, but safety is still top of mind for students and district leaders.

Since the second day of school on August 26, 30 guns were reported and found at multiple campuses including K-8, middle, and high schools.

Just this week alone, two guns were found at two different schools. On Monday, school officials said a student brought a gun to Coulwood STEM Academy, and on Tuesday a student left an unloaded gun in a bookbag at Harding University High School.

CMS says the bag was discovered before being brought through the school’s body scanners.

In addition, hundreds of other weapons including knives, box cutters, razors, pepper spray, and tasers were also located on several campuses.

Sydney Tillman is graduating this month from Phillip O’Berry Academy of Technology and says she often felt anxious and nervous about the potential for gun violence and fights at her school.

“It’s the fact that I have to constantly remind myself that my school is safe. I shouldn’t even have to question it,” Tillman said.

A student was caught with a gun at Phillip O’Berry in May. District officials say staff members were alerted of the weapon as the student was walking through one of the body scanners.

“We have the security and resources here. There’s no reason for you to have a gun, there’s no reason for you to have a knife or weapon,” Tillman said.

WBTV’s education reporter Courtney Cole did a one-on-one interview with interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh on Wednesday. He spoke highly of the staff’s efforts in operating the body scanners and catching the weapon before it was brought inside of the school building at Phillip O’Berry.

The district purchased and installed Evolv body scanners at 21 high schools in April. Elementary, middle, and K-8 schools do not have body scanners.

“We have put the scanners in all of our comprehensive high schools as a deterrent to ensure we don’t have weapons brought in. It has worked,” Hattabaugh said.

Former Superintendent Earnest Winston announced the district-wide safety work group last fall.

Related: Group evaluating options for addressing safety in CMS schools

This group included CMS personnel from a variety of departments, including senior leaders as well as students. The group was responsible for discussing and evaluating all options for addressing safety in CMS schools including equipment, social support, and counseling.

CMS also spent nearly $442,000 on 46,000 clear backpacks which were initially scheduled for a pilot program at Hopewell High School and Cochrane Collegiate Academy in April.

In an email to parents, CMS officials said in unloading clear backpacks for distribution at the two pilot schools, officials discovered most backpacks contained a warning tag required by Proposition 65 for California residents.

Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide warnings about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

CMS placed the distribution on pause in late March.

Hattabaugh says they are not planning to move forward with the bags at this time.

“I don’t think the clear backpacks will be an option as we go forward. We will be looking at other options as well as we go ahead. At this point this will not be one of the options afforded to our schools at this point,” he said.

Tillman and many other students WBTV previously interviewed said they felt the bags were an invasion of privacy and not durable. Others said they felt it would be a good way for school staff to see if students were carrying weapons or other illegal items.

CMS also launched the anonymous reporting system Say Something in all of its middle and high schools.

Say Something is a youth violence prevention program from the national nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), which has funding to provide the program and training at no cost to the district.

The system enables school administrators and law enforcement to create effective interventions and to help prevent violence, suicide, bullying, self-harm, and other forms of threatening behavior.

Since the launch, CMS officials said students submitted more than 1,110 tips.

Hattabaugh says one of those tips led to school officials discovering a gun at Coulwood STEM Academy on Monday.

“That was an anonymous call in that notified them and they were able to take care of business discretely.”

CMS also doubled its random safety screenings. A total of 62 screenings were completed from August to the present day.

Hattabaugh says increasing safety will only happen if the community works together and as long as all school staff is following proper protocols.

“It’s processes and protocols to continue to address those each year because you’re going to have new teachers, new principals. We have 60 principals that are 1-year, in their second year, ensuring best practices that we already have in place and making sure everyone is following those,” he said.

“If you’re going to do something be consistent about it. How can we cater to the students while also keeping them safe,” Tillman asked.

CMS officials proposed increasing the number of mental health positions in schools. The district’s proposed budget has not been approved yet.

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