3 Months Post-Parkland: The Impact on CMS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A milestone moment for any parent motivated mom Carolyn McGrath to learn more about safety and security at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: her baby was about to enter kindergarten. McGrath wanted to know: what is the district’s active shooter training policy? She says, “They need to do more than just shelter in place.” McGrath works in the security industry. She knew better than most, the questions to ask. But the answers, she says, frustrated her. In short, “CMS doesn’t have a policy.”

The CMS Police Chief, who has not responded to WCCB’s interview request, has indicated a commitment to the lockdown procedure, as evidenced through internal emails WCCB obtained through open records requests. Chief Randy Hagler tells principals asking for safety guidance in the days after Parkland, in part, “…please stress with your staff the importance of our lockdown process…”

And, at a school safety meeting last week, McGrath says Hagler told the audience that he still recommended lockdown as the primary response.

North Carolina general statute 115c-105.49 also requires schools to practice lockdown drills once a year.

But other district leaders have indicated a desire to evolve CMS’ approach to safety. At a town hall forum in April, CMS Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ tells city council member Dimple Ajmera this: “The current protocol does call for locking doors, and you do get that barrier aspect now, that has been the practice for years, this is a drill that all schools go through twice a year. But we want to do what it takes for safer schools, and if there are better protocols, better practices out there, we are bringing them in and we think the best way to do that right now is our partnership with CMPD.”

CMPD recommends this: “We are definitely options based. We never wanna tell you what to do. We’re gonna give you options and let you decide what is your best option for survival,” says Sgt. Chris Kopp. He is the active shooter training instructor for CMPD. He says lockdowns play to our natural instinct to get low to the ground when bullets are flying These days, Kopp says, it’s not enough. He says, “It’s very difficult, trying to tell kids what to do, because the shooter is studying that. I mean, look at the Marjory Douglas School shooting. They’re using the policies against us for safety.”

One local law enforcement source spoke to WCCB on the condition of anonymity and called lockdowns, “worthless,” saying, “We need to stop being passive and start teaching proactive actions…smashing an exterior window and getting a class out.”

“One of the things that we learned as part of our board training when it comes to safety is that lockdown is the first preferred,” says CMS Board Chair Mary McCray. WCCB asked mccray if she is confident in the district’s current safety procedures. “That’s difficult to say. I can’t say I’m 100 percent confident,” and, “What I can say is our schools are, our staff are on alert. They are paying attention, and one of the things that we always stress: is if you see something, tell somebody.”

McGrath’s kindergartner will enter the 1st grade this fall. Whether the new school year will include new safety policies and procedures, remains to be seen. McGrath says, “We’re still not ready if something happened tomorrow or next week. It’s been over two months since Parkland, and we’re still not ready as a community.”

McCray says every school in CMS submits a safety plan to the school board for approval every year. The details of the plans are kept secret. McGrath says the district could be more transparent by providing general information to parents.