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Shots fired at a CMS school intensifiy pressure for CMS safety measures

Superintendent Earnest Winston displays the student discipline handbook in a video on guns and safety released Thursday night.
Superintendent Earnest Winston displays the student discipline handbook in a video on guns and safety released Thursday night.

The biggest item on Tuesday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board agenda is one that’s not specifically on the agenda: a report on actions to protect schools from an influx of guns.

A Monday afternoon incident outside West Charlotte High in which a student fired at least one shot during a scuffle with another student raised the level of anxiety, which was already high. It was the 23rd gun found on CMS campuses so far this school year, with the end of first semester more than a month away, and the first in which a shot was fired. The previous record for firearms in CMS was 22 in 2018-19.

Even before that, school board members had called for Superintendent Earnest Winson to lay out specifics for dealing with the gun problem. Board Chair Elyse Dashew has told WFAE she expects “concrete steps” before the end of 2021. Tuesday’s meeting is the only one scheduled for the rest of this month.

Winston will give a report early in the meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. Dashew said Monday Winston doesn’t tell her in advance what’s in his general reports and she hadn’t heard whether he’d address safety measures Tuesday. CMS Communications Director Eve White said Monday she hadn’t heard whether that will be part of Winston’s report.

At a news conference outside West Charlotte High Monday afternoon, Winston said that “I will tell any parent that our schools are safe, that there are measures that we’re taking to increase the safety of our schools.”

But he described no new measures. Instead, he repeated what he’s said in a 5-minute video about guns and violence sent out Thursday night, in a written message to families sent earlier this month and in previous board meetings. He called the surge in guns a community problem that’s spilling into schools.

"And as a community, we have to have a call to action to say, 'No more. This is unacceptable. We will not allow this to happen,'" he said.

Earlier this month Winston wrote that he has ordered clear book bags for all high school students and doubled random safety screenings at middle and high schools. CMS has placed a $441,792 order with the Office Depot on J.W. Clay Boulevard for 46,000 clear book bags, but Winston says they won’t be delivered until February.

Winston’s letter to families said he has spoken to manufacturers about metal detectors and wands, but didn’t say what his plan for them was. On Monday he said those items are “on the table” for a group of employees that’s studying safety options.

Several people have signed up to speak about safety concerns during Tuesday’s public comment period.

The agenda also includes reports on the effectiveness of “Camp CMS” summer school and revised plans for the district’s after-school program. The meeting can be streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

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Updated: December 13, 2021 at 3:33 PM EST
Updated to reflect Monday afternoon's gun incident at West Charlotte High.
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.