New safety measures in place as CMS students prepare to head back to school

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Monday was the first day of school for 11 counties in our area, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said Monday the CMS district began with a teacher in every classroom, but they still have some regular full-time positions to fill. The district is at 99% occupancy.

"We can report a successful start to the school year thus far," Winston said.

CMS was prepared with several changes, from safety procedures to a new superintendent.

Many of the changes stem from a deadly shooting inside Butler High School last fall.

One major safety change is a crisis alert system.

All staff will have a panic card that can send out a school-wide alert for lockdowns, evacuations, severe weather or medical emergencies.

The button lights up in different colors depending on the type of emergency and the threat is pinpointed on a map so police can respond right away.

Another change is a gun-sniffing K-9 named Nico who will be used during random screenings alongside metal detectors and wands. Nico has already found one gun during the CMS summer session.

CMS also announced deputies with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office will partner with school resource officers to conduct random, district-wide patrols.

They will visit schools throughout the day and even after hours.

"You always want to ensure that when I drop my child off here, when they get off the bus at this facility, they're safe no matter what," parent Cassandra Jackson said. "If they have to push that barrier a little bit, then so be it.

Officials said 19 guns were found in CMS schools last school year -- 16 in high schools and three in middle schools.

The district also made physical improvements such as upgraded locks, stronger doors, more than 7,000 new cameras and digital access controls for main entrances.

According to CMS, nearly 1,100 buses will travel a total of 125,000 miles to take students to and from school on the first day.

"It's imperative that these kids get to and from school safely," Assistant Chief Withers, with Dallas Rescue Squad, said.

CMS is down 39 bus drivers, but it expects to add five more this week.

[PAST COVERAGE: Tougher security measures ahead for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools]

Withers said if drivers are on a two- or four-lane highway, it's required by state law that they stop for a stopped school bus.

But if it's a divided highway, Withers said the opposite lanes of travel do not have to stop for a school bus.

CMS also has an app called Here Comes the Bus that helps parents track their child's school bus.

"This is a process," Winston said. "We have many new drivers this school year. We want to make sure that every child gets on the bus as they are supposed to and so sometimes, I would rather be delayed and make sure that we do things right."