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CMS bucked a troubling NC trend with its drop in guns, report shows

Students walking through body scanners
Ann Doss Helms
Students walk through a weapons scanner at Hopewell High.

For years, every state report on crime and violence in North Carolina schools showed Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at the top for guns reported on campus. That peaked in the 2021-22 school year when CMS set a state and local record with 29 guns on campuses.

But last year, CMS saw that total plunge to six, as the district installed walk-through weapon scanners in middle and high schools and launched an anonymous threat reporting system.

Numbers released Wednesday afternoon show that wasn’t the case in many other districts. Statewide, the number of guns rose by 24%, from 161 to 199, part of an overall increase in violent and criminal incidents.

Wake County, the only North Carolina district bigger than CMS, went from eight guns reported in 2021-22 to 18 in 2022-23, the most in the state. Seven much smaller districts, including Guilford and Winston Salem-Forsyth, had between eight and 13 guns last year. Most of those totals were well above the previous year’s.

Three other districts that are less than one-third the size of CMS — Union, Cabarrus and Duplin counties, also had six guns last year. The previous year the combined total for those three districts was four guns.

The downward trend for guns at CMS schools comes as police say violent crime among juveniles is surging, with the number of young shooting suspects and victims rising in 2023.

Lots of drugs at schools

State law mandates that the Department of Public Instruction produce an annual tally of violent and criminal acts at public schools, including districts and charter schools. Those acts include various types of assault and possession of drugs, alcohol, guns and other weapons. The goal is to inform efforts to make schools safer.

This year’s report shows the total of all incidents topped 13,000, an increase of about 2,000 over the previous year. The rate per 1,000 students rose from 7.51 to 8.77.

Tallies include all acts that happen in school buildings or on the grounds. Not surprisingly, the numbers plunged during the two school years when students spent part of their time learning from home because of COVID-19. But now, both the number and the rate have topped pre-pandemic levels, the highest in the past 10 years, the report shows.

The overall rate for CMS was just under 10 per 1,000 students, above the state average but down from 11 in the previous year.

Possession of controlled substances, a category that includes street drugs and improperly obtained prescription drugs, accounted for just over half of all incidents in CMS and 54% of all statewide incidents. The state report says those numbers are rising rapidly — at a time when the potentially deadly fentanyl is appearing in many types of drugs.

The second most common act was possession of weapons other than firearms. That accounted for 20% of CMS incidents and 24% of North Carolina incidents.

The report also tracks suspensions, expulsions and dropouts. Data for all districts and public schools can be downloaded here.

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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.