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CMS Superintendent on School Safety: 'We're Going To Have To Rethink A Lot Of Things'

Gwendolyn Glenn

The national debate over school safety continues in the wake of tragedies including the fatal shootings of 17 people earlier this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  There are strong calls for stricter gun control measures and a growing debate over the idea of arming teachers and school staffers.   Monday evening, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and CMPD Chief Kerr Putney will participate in a Facebook Live event to address school safety. 

LISA WORF: What do you think of the idea of arming teachers?

CLAYTON WILCOX: It's not an idea that I support nor is it an idea that we're discussing locally. I think adding guns to an already volatile situation just defies logic.

LISA WORF: You’ve talked about adding more armed security guards in schools after Florida.

WILCOX: What I said is that we would talk about more armed security, but what that really means is school resource officers. It might mean our own police department, but people who are trained not only here and using the firearms, but also in dealing with criminal behavior. And that's really at the heart of it what this is about.

WORF: What security measures can CMS take?  

WILCOX: First of all, it begins with each and every individual in the school. I think we have to be hyper-vigilant. We have to be more aware than we've ever been. And that means that we begin by trying to eliminate the gun in the first place. If you have someone who has been disenfranchised by the school and who's acting in a way that causes you pause, you've got to say something so we can get the right help to that person. But to the extent that all of those safeguards fail and somebody comes on the campus, I think we can create more barriers to their entrance into the school. Perhaps, the idea of a security vestibule makes some sense to slow someone down to give us time to get first responders there. I think it does make sense for us to have conversations with local law enforcement about the cycle times that they have between and among schools. Obviously, in the city of Charlotte, for example, we should be able to have first responders there in a matter of moments. Around some of our portables I think are going to have to look at barriers like fencing and other ways to at least slow people down.

WORF: When you're talking about hardening facilities, how much harder is that when you look at a lot of CMS schools that have multiple buildings and, as you noted, lots of portable classrooms?

WILCOX: That's why we've got to look at access around the perimeter of schools. The unfortunate reality of all of this is: it's not just funding, it's that no matter what we do we're going to be hard pressed to keep somebody who is evil in their intent that has an AR or an AK device and tries to come on our campus. Clearly, the greatest security vessel isn't going to stop that individual who's going to come in and spray bullets around our campus. We're going to have to rethink a lot of things. But I also think you know as part of this larger conversation I will leave it to legislators and others to talk about access to those kinds of weapons.

WORF: What do you plan to bring up on the Facebook Live conversation tonight?

WILCOX: Would background checks help us in terms of who gets on our campuses, a little deeper level of that? What kind of security barriers can we put in place? How do we, perhaps, inform the community of what's acceptable behavior on our campuses in a way that we haven't before.

WORF: What kinds of things are you thinking about regarding acceptable behavior?

WILCOX: You've got to think about bullying. You've got to think about some of the things that kids do to each other, adults do to kids that, perhaps, create these kinds of feelings where somebody comes back and says, ‘I want to even the playing field and I'm going to bring a weapon to the table.’ I think that’s some of it. I think some of the rhetoric that we often hear on campuses - the name calling, the threatening behavior. We've got to think about that kind of stuff as the precursor to some of these real difficult things that are taking place across the country today.

WORF: How would you rate the fear factor in CMS schools right now?

WILCOX: There are a lot of things that are contributing to fear right now. I certainly think that there are some kids and parents who absolutely worry every day as they enter a campus what's going to happen. But I also sense a growing optimism as kids are realizing that their voice is being heard by people like myself and others. I have a great sense that our teachers understand that we are doing all that we can to keep them safe and their kids safe. So I'm feeling better and better each day. What I'm saddened by is that it takes a tragedy like this to focus on some of these issues like mental health and how we treat each other as human beings. It seems that we've been down this path enough times now that we wouldn't need to have it again.