CHARLOTTE — Amid growing concerns over school violence, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston laid out the steps the district is taking to ensure students are safe.
Winston’s letter was penned to school staff and families just hours after a fight involving pepper spray broke out at Harding University High School Friday, sending the school into lockdown.
Winston began his letter acknowledging the tragedy of the mass shooting at a Michigan high school on Tuesday.
“We are facing a crisis of student aggression and violence within our community and our schools,” Winston said. “Guns do not belong in schools or in the hands of children.”
The superintendent went on to outline CMS’ safety measures. He said not only are students and staff trained on lockdown procedures and active shooter scenarios, but school resource officers are on all middle and high school campuses.
Winston said he realized that was not enough, so he and other leaders ordered clear backpacks for high schools that, after some delay, are slated to arrive in February. He also said middle and high schools will have a tool for students to report their concerns anonymously. Random safety screenings have doubled in high schools and Winston said they have asked about metal detectors and wands.
Channel 9 previously sat down with the principal of Hopewell High School who said she had made similar requests.
CMS has also started working with city and county partners to share violence-interrupting programs like Alternative to Violence to reach out to the community.
But, “there is more work to do,” Winston said. On Thursday, he met with officials including the district attorney and the sheriff to discuss more solutions.
Channel 9 anchor John Paul spoke with District Attorney Spencer Merriweather on Thursday after that meeting.
“It’s important to say this today of all days. We’ve got to figure out how to reduce access to guns to our children,” Merriweather told Channel 9. “There is no reason why a high school student, or a middle school student -- or anybody -- should be carrying weapons in our schools. The fact that it’s been happening with increased occurrence is a shame, and there is not a single leader in our community that shouldn’t be devoting every single day of their efforts to make sure this comes to an end.”
Merriweather said the meeting about how to stop gun violence in school even included a student attendee.
(WATCH: Channel 9 speaks with DA Merriweather about stopping gun violence in CMS schools)
“We know that there is a great violation to the safety and sanctity of our young people,” Merriweather said. “When someone is taking a firearm into an educational institution -- these places are supposed to be cathedrals, these places are supposed to be safe havens for our children. These are places of learning and firearms don’t have any business in there at all.”
Merriweather said they are coming up with a blueprint moving forward that addresses guns and support for students. Thursday was the first meeting but he said there will be more to come.
“We are all concerned for the safety of our students and staff,” Winston said. “Addressing this crisis is a top priority, and we will communicate more actions as our team takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to new school safety measures and preventing further violence.”
The full text of the letter Winston sent is below.
Superintendent Winston’s letter to CMS families and staff
“The news of the tragic shooting this week in a Michigan school is disturbing and hits close to home as we see increased fighting in schools and more guns on our campuses. This is unacceptable. 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.
“Each of you is an important part of the CMS family, and it is imperative that you feel secure in your work environment. Your safety is of the utmost importance to me, and we are taking action to protect you and our students.
“I want to update you on the actions we are taking to protect our students and staff. First, let me assure you we do have and continue to use safety and support protocols. All students and staff are trained in lockdown procedures to secure buildings during a crisis. We train school-based staff for active shooter scenarios, conduct random safety screenings and canine searches, provide staff for the social and emotional needs of our students, and have trained school resource officers on our middle and high school campuses to respond to issues. We must do more.
“Recently, I directed a workgroup to evaluate all possible options for our schools, and develop and prioritize short- and long-term solutions. We have ordered clear backpacks for high schools and have been told that delivery is delayed until February. We have dedicated a team to implement a tool for middle and high school students to report concerns anonymously. We have doubled the number of random safety screenings in our secondary schools. We have contacted screening equipment manufacturers regarding metal detectors and wands. In addition, we’ve engaged city and county partners to share strategies like the Alternative to Violence program to reach into the community. There is more work to do.
“Yesterday, I met with the Mecklenburg County district attorney, Charlotte-Mecklenburg chief of police, Mecklenburg County sheriff, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, district court judges, and city and county leaders to discuss solutions to this growing crisis.
“We are all concerned for the safety of our students and staff. Addressing this crisis is a top priority, and we will communicate more actions as our team takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to new school safety measures and preventing further violence.
“If you have ideas or solutions, please contact me at email@example.com because all ideas are needed to make a difference.”
(WATCH BELOW: CMS police hold active shooter training for school employees)
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