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CMS rolls out anonymous reporting system to combat guns and other dangers in schools

East Mecklenburg High School Principal Rick Parker  with Say Something poster
Ann Doss Helms
East Mecklenburg High School Principal Rick Parker displays a poster used to remind students about the Say Something anonymous reporting system.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has finished training staff and students on a new system that lets students anonymously report guns and other dangers. And the district said clear backpacks are in the warehouse, ready for distribution to high school students.

Both measures are part of the district’s efforts to respond to aninflux of guns at schools during the first semester. CMS confiscated 23 guns as of mid-December, more than the total for any previous full school year.

CMS Executive Director of Communications Eve White said Friday there have been no additional guns found at schools since students returned from winter break Jan. 4.

The Say Something program includes an app, a phone line and website, all of which give students a way to report potential dangers without being identified.

“They can just click right in, and they’ve got a variety of choices that they can choose from. It could be bullying, it could be a weapon, it could be a possible fight, it could be talking suicide,” East Mecklenburg High School Principal Rick Parker said Friday.

The students are connected with a national panel of professionals trained to screen the tips, determine whether lives are at risk and pass the information to school response teams. The program is run at no cost to schools by the group Sandy Hook Promise, created after a gunman took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

Sandy Hook Promise reports that across the country the reporting program has averted seven school shootings and more than 60 acts of violence with a weapon.

Parker said as of Friday his school had gotten one tip, saying that a student had been talking about suicide. CMS did a wellness check and the student is OK, he said.

In the past, CMS has credited students willing to talk directly with teachers, principals and school resources officers with ensuring that most guns are safely confiscated. And the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Crime Stoppers program offers a $500 reward for tips that lead to confiscation of a gun on school property. That reward was doubled in December after a gun was fired at West Charlotte High School.

Police Chief Johnny Jennings said on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks this week that he isn’t aware of anyone claiming the $500 reward for any tips about guns at schools since the total was increased.

Parker said the anonymous system adds an option for students who are afraid of retaliation or stigma if they report a problem.

“A lot of it’s just, you know, the word ‘snitch.’ You know, afraid to be labeled as being somebody that told,” he said.

Parker said the Say Something training includes drawing a distinction between “snitching” to get someone in trouble and making a report that could save lives.

“This is just another avenue, and I look at it as another way to help prevent things from happening,” Parker said. “You know, I’m sure it’s not foolproof, but it still gives kids another option.”

Later this month, all CMS high school students will get clear backpacks and be required to use them. CMS spent almost $442,000 to order the bags, which will be distributed at no cost to students. White said they’re now in the district’s warehouse awaiting distribution.

Some parents have urged the district to take that step, but other adults and students have spoken at school board meetings saying the clear book bags are ineffective.

Parker said students have lots of questions, from how sturdy they’ll be to what athletes will do about bags for carrying bulky equipment.

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.