Numerous guns have been confiscated from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ students—19 were discovered in the 2016/17 school year—six as of November this year. No shootings had occurred on campuses in recent years but in October, 16-year-old Bobby McKeithen was fatally shot at Butler High School in Matthews. Fellow student Jatwan Cuffie, also 16, has been charged in the shooting.
CMS officials are seeking ways to keep guns out of schools and are also looking for means to help students, staff and parents cope following a gun incident. At Butler, psychologists, social workers and counselors were sent in to provide immediate counseling. According to Cotrane Penn, CMS’ executive director for student wellness and academic support, that assistance is ongoing at Butler. She talks with WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn.
Cotrane Penn: We did install school-based mental health programs at Butler. Prior to the shooting, they did not have that program on their campus. The Butler staff has been meeting with those students identified as likely needing follow up support.
Gwendolyn Glenn: How did you identify those students and who were they?
CP: The school principal did an amazing job of talking to both students and staff in the aftermath about seeking help if needed if they were struggling emotionally, having trouble sleeping, feeling sad or scared. There was a media center full of professionals who could see them. We had parents who brought their children down to the counseling center following the shooting, staff walked students down but most with encouragement from their parents and staff identified themselves as needing to talk to somebody.
GG: What kinds of things will you add at schools other than Butler?
CP: We will provide more professional development for our counselors, social workers and psychologists to help them understand common needs of students so they can identify when they are anxious and stressful. We’ll build the core skills of our core based staff so they can pour that into our students.
GG: Any new programs you are implementing to help with issues like the Butler incident to meet students, parents and teachers' needs.
CP: There’s a federal grant called the School Emergency Response to Violence Grant that we are applying for that. It has been awarded to schools that have made the national news like the Parkland (Florida) shooting.
GG: How will you use that grant money?
CP: We are looking at using funding to increase student access to increase counseling support and supplement funding needs for families that need therapy that may not be able to afford insurance copays and out-of-pocket mental health treatment costs. We’re also looking at providing funding for substitute teachers so if we have teachers who need to go to therapy or take other actions to address their self-care needs, we can cover the costs of their substitute. The primary goal is to rebuild the school community and restore it to safety that the school had prior to those awful events in October.
Hear the full interview in the audio above.