Clear backpacks, more solutions coming amid ‘growing crisis’ in CMS, Winston says

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After a week that included a deadly shooting in Michigan and more trouble at Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools, Superintendent Earnest Winston says the district is taking an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to safety — including clear backpacks.

In a letter to CMS families Friday afternoon, Winston called the mass shooting that killed four students at Oxford High School in Michigan on Tuesday “disturbing,” and that it “hits close to home” as the district sees more fights and guns on campuses.

“This is unacceptable,” Winston said in his note. “We are facing a crisis of student aggression and violence within our community and our schools. Guns do not belong in schools or in the hands of children.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston

Winston met with other high-ranking city and county officials, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Johnny Jennings, Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden and a representative for new U.S. Attorney Dena King, to discuss the “growing crisis.”

Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather III, who called the meeting, said the group would like to go into a school and listen to what the kids and community has to say.

“The community is far better equipped than Earnest Winston and me to say why violence is a terrible idea,” Merriweather told the Observer.

“The conversation with young people has to be focused on what they need from us,” he said. “How in the world are middle school and high school kids getting access to these weapons? The goal has to be eliminating the presence of every single firearm in every school in every county of the state.”

The Observer could not reach Jennings, McFadden and King, a graduate of South Mecklenburg High School, for comment.

“We’re late,” Merriweather said. “All of us are doing good work. But hey man, it’s time to get to work — together.”

Winston said he’s directed a workgroup to develop short- and long-term solutions. Clear backpacks also have been ordered for high schools, but delivery is delayed until February, he said.

Other measures Winston said that CMS is taking include:

Creating a team to implement a tool for middle and high school students to report incidents anonymously;

Doubling the number of random safety screenings in secondary schools;

Contacting screening equipment manufacturers about metal detectors and wands;

Speaking to city and county partners to share strategies like the Alternatives to Violence program.

“There is more work to do,” Winston said.

Guns, fighting in CMS

Winston’s letter came hours after an incident an incident at Harding High School, the second this week and one of five involving fights or guns in the past two weeks.

Around 7:25 a.m. Friday, CMPD responded to a report that a 16-year-old girl was pepper-sprayed during an altercation. One juvenile was detained, and the school went on lockdown for random safety screenings, CMPD said. No one suffered life-threatening injuries, police said.

On Tuesday, Harding was placed on lockdown following a fight and the discovery of a gun in a student’s backpack, according to letter sent to families by the school’s assistant principal.

Two juveniles were charged in the incident, police said.

Other involving on CMS campuses over the past two weeks:

On Thursday, a student came onto the Garinger High School campus with a gun, Assistant Principal Tomeka Barbour told families in a letter. A juvenile was arrested for this incident, police said.

On Wednesday, Chambers High School went on modified lockdown following a fight among multiple students, the school’s principal said in a letter to parents.

On Nov. 18, Mallard Creek High School went on lockdown after a series of fights broke out in the morning, the school’s principal said in a letter.

At least 17 guns have been found on CMS campuses since Aug. 26, WBTV reported.

“All our kids are reeling from 19 months of instability from the pandemic,” Merriweather said in his interview with the Observer. “A lot of social networks have broken down. A lot of support for our children has fallen to the wayside. ... We’re seeing the results of that.”

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