These students are armed, stoned and sometimes dangerous to school staff and each other.
And if Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' school violence numbers are to be believed, many of them don't go to school where you would think.
According to a state school violence report released this fall, CMS' most troubled schools aren't its impoverished high schools, which get the most media attention, but its middle schools.
These troubled middle schools, some of which are in the suburbs and the middle ring areas of the county, have consistently wound up in the top 15 in the system for criminal and violent acts on school property according to three years of data from the CMS violence report.
That said, I should stop right here to note that I don't believe the numbers I'm quoting in this column. Almost none of the county's poorest schools ranked in the top 15 in the report for violent acts per 1,000 students. Yet in a separate survey conducted by CMS, the majority of kids in those schools -- and only those schools -- said they didn't feel safe at school. There's got to be a reason for that.
The folks at the Charlotte Observer seem to think the school system fudged these violence numbers, too. The paper busted CMS for under reporting school violence two years ago. And in November, the Observer reported that the school system claimed significantly lower numbers of violent and criminal acts to the state compared to most surrounding counties.
So why am I writing a column about school crime numbers I don't believe? Because while I'm certain that school administrators are still under reporting violence and crime in our schools, I doubt they'd make up the incidents that they are reporting.
And that's why the list of schools that did rank among the top 15 most violent in our system is so interesting. These are the schools you don't hear much about because schools like Garinger or West Charlotte high schools dominate media airtime every time some kid brings an assault rifle to school. But other schools have serious problems, too.
Take suburban North Mecklenburg High School, for instance. North, which is located in Huntersville, had the third highest number of criminal and violent incidents per 1,000 students in the system last year, according to the report. No guns were found at the school, but what can only be described as a thriving drug market at North ranked it No. 1 among all schools in the system for possession of controlled substances. Forty-three kids at the school were caught with illegal substances last year.
Drugs, alcohol and possession of weapons other than guns has pushed both suburban and middle ring middle schools like Eastway, Carmel, Quail Hollow, McClintock, Albemarle Road and Coulwood to the top of the school crime list over the last three years. At Coulwood Middle School last year, 18 students were caught with drugs.
But the seldom discussed patterns of drugs and weapons in our schools take a backseat to the guns that always make the news. But again, violence isn't just confined to what everyone thinks of as the "worst" schools in the system. East Mecklenburg High School had five assaults on school personnel last year, supposedly the highest number in the system. Smith Language Academy and West Mecklenburg and North Mecklenburg high schools tied for second with three each. And, again assuming these numbers are to be believed, almost all of the assaults resulting in serious injury that occurred in our schools happened in our middle schools.
So while your average suburban kid or lower-middle class child wasn't caught bringing a gun to school last year and didn't attend a school where other kids did, they likely did see quite a bit of drug traffic and quite a few weapons in school.
All this could explain why over one third of the high school students in this county told surveyors with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005 that they were offered, sold or given a drug on school property in the last year.
This year's state violence report makes it clear that there is a second tier of drugs, weapons, addictive substances and violence in our system that parents probably don't know about and that hardly anyone is talking about.
All of which makes me wonder ... what the heck is going on behind school doors?
Mecklenburg's most violent schools by crimes per 1,000 students:
1. Eastway Middle: 33.254
2. West Mecklenburg High: 27.044
3. North Mecklenburg High: 26.455
4. Coulwood Middle: 24.058
5. Marie G. Davis Middle: 20.896
6. Northridge Middle: 20.286
7. Wilson Middle: 17.928
8. Albemarle Road Middle: 16.189
9. EE Waddell High: 15.247
10. Southwest Middle: 14.842
11. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle: 14.052
12. John Motley Morehead Elementary: 14.025
13. Carmel Middle: 13.624
14. Cochrane Middle: 13.445
15. Independence High: 13.282
-- North Carolina Department of Public Instruction