CMS announces new school safety measures

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is increasing security measures, including random wanding of students and searches of backpacks, to help keep weapons out of schools. The district announced the new safety protocols Nov. 16, and called for community support in keeping schools safe.

The new measures are in addition to a network of existing protections in the district's Circle of Safety, including LobbyGuard visitor screening, 24/7 camera monitoring on all campuses, School Resource Officers in high and middle schools, lockdown drills and active-survivor training. See more information on the CMS Safety page accessible from the district home page.

"This is not just a school problem – it's a community problem," Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent, said at a media briefing. "We are taking action to keep weapons out of schools because we want all students to have safe, secure environments that promote academic growth. Our focus in schools should be on education."

The district announced the new security measures following the fatal shooting of a Butler high school student in a crowded school hallway Oct. 29. Another Butler student has been charged in the shooting.

Dr. Wilcox was joined at the briefing by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney.

Putney said that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police Department and the district were engaged in a collaborative discussion about keeping schools safe.

He also praised the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and the Mecklenburg County manager for their support.

"They will make our schools safer," Putney said. "Charlotte deserves no less."

Both men emphasized that school safety is a community responsibility.

"It is clear that the entire community must be a part of keeping weapons out of our schools," the superintendent said. "We cannot be partners in possibility if we fail to be stewards of safety for our kids. We simply must work together to keep weapons out of our schools and reduce violence in the lives of our young people."

The new measures include a mix of technology, procedure and actions.

"We have consulted with law enforcement, we have conducted internal reviews and we have looked at ideas and best practices from other districts," Dr. Wilcox said. "We also talked to students. I want to thank them for their honesty, their candor and their brilliance."

When school resumes after the winter break, he said, the district will begin random wanding of students and random searches of backpacks and bags. Wanding and searching will be done by trained security personnel and the program will be managed by the district's police force, who will work with local law enforcement to develop protocols and procedures. The wanding and searches will not be announced in advance.

Camera monitors will be increased to include all portable classrooms. The district will also accelerate its deployment of "panic cards" that will allow teachers to send instant emergency notification to CMS staff, law enforcement and emergency personnel.

The district will install an electronic, keyless entry-access system on every front door and the primary entry point for remote buildings on school campuses. Monitoring will be increased at secondary entrances to campuses used for access to athletic fields, auxiliary buildings, maintenance and other entry points for vehicles.

The district will work with staff on updates of all school safety plans, entry and access procedures, emergency procedures, crisis teams, communications and incident reporting. Resources, platforms and procedures for social media monitoring will also be added to ensure families and the public are informed about threat assessment and early warnings.

CMS is also working to make crisis communications more robust by increasing the frequency of updates and wider messaging to families, including instant text messaging.

In addition to these measures, Dr. Wilcox emphasized the necessity of additional significant investment in social, emotional and mental health supports for students, including more counselors, in the next operating budget. CMS has added 60 counseling positions this year but remains well below student-counselor ratios recommended by national mental health organizations.

"I want to use this announcement as a platform for early notice to our leaders – CMS will be asking for more support for our student and not in a small way," Dr. Wilcox said.

The district will also hold a series of community town halls to share safety and security information and gather input from the public. The meetings will begin before the end of the calendar year, he said.

"I strongly encourage everyone – students, families and staff – to say something if you see something that can threaten our safety," said Dr. Wilcox. "I strongly believe that the true solutions to ending violence and guns in our schools are found in building relationships, in creating trust and in creating community in our schools," he said.

To see the district's new CMS Safety page, which includes comprehensive information on existing safety measures and the new ones, click here.