CMS implements enhanced training, methods to address high suspension rates

CHARLOTTE — More teenagers are acting out in the classroom and some local leaders think it is spreading to the streets, fueling a rise in youth crime.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools found last school year, Black students made up 68% of the total out of school suspensions, even though they’re only 36% of the total student body. It’s called a disproportionately rate. District officials say work is ongoing to make things equitable for all students.

Shootings, car thefts and violent assaults are crimes police say teens are committing in the Charlotte area. Life Connections program coordinator Alma Moore counsels many of the suspects.

“I deal with some of the highest risk kids in Mecklenburg county, boys and girls,” Moore said.

She believes the increase in juvenile crime could be connected to the number of teens making bad choices at school, which she says has spiked in recent years.

“I think the kids were bored and they came with all kinds of creative things to do during that time, and then we have a parenting issue,” Moore said.

Community Crisis: Kids & Crime

CMS deputy superintendent Dr. Melisa Balknight oversees student discipline and says the pandemic might have something to do with it.

“A lot of people may look and say, it seems like kids are acting out a lot more, is that accurate...we saw immediately, I think nationally people could say that discipline has significantly increased across all public schools after the pandemic.”

A recent state report shows that there was a 13% jump in short-term suspensions statewide during the 2022-23 school year. compared to the previous one. There was a 6% increase. Long-term suspensions also rose slightly across the state, but more than doubled for CMS.

“I think as school continues to get back to what we would call normal, things are beginning to come to the surface that are not okay to happen in a school to make sure we have a safe school environment.”

Has progress been made?

CMS acknowledged last year in a report that Black students are disproportionately and promised to address the issue.

Reporter Jonathan Lowe sat down with Balknight for an update on whether there’s been an improvement.

“It’s not ideal, we haven’t met our goal yet, but we are moving in the right direction,” she said.

Many of those that have been suspended are also referred to life connections where a team works to get them on the right path.

“I think that those tactics of keeping kids out of school, what do they do, they go home and they gonna be bored,” Balknight said. “It leads to the school to prison pipeline.”

Although Moore supports stiffer consequences for students who habitually misbehave, she questions weather all the suspensions at CMS are effective.

“You’re labeled, nobody wants to be labeled as a troublemaker or a bad kid, I think we need to find out where the trauma began, in the homes, before we really suspend them,” she said.

Balknight says the key will come down to wrap-around services for students.

“Educators do not go to school to provide mental health services to students and to families, and so it’s the true partnership with the mental health community,” Balknight said.

She said the district is implementing something called “restorative practice.” It’s a method designed to repair relationships among students in a way that keeps them in school.

“Restorative justice is to help them communicate better, rather than bully, rather resort to fighting or shooting,” Moore said.

CMS told Channel 9 they are providing enhanced training for teachers and administrators at schools with the highest suspensions.

(WATCH BELOW: Raise the Age: The crisis of North Carolina’s juvenile justice system)

Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.

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