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Bullies In, Victims Out

The upside down world of CMS discipline

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Two weeks ago, law enforcement officers with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools showed up at Colleen Ross' front door to advise her that it wouldn't be a good idea to send her son, a sophomore at Olympic High, to school the next day. A group of students were threatening to slit his throat or shoot him, she says.

It all started three weeks ago, when she says that the same kids "shook him down," a term describing a combination robbery and assault that by all accounts is quite popular these days among students.

Administrators did little about it, she says. So, as often happens in the Third World wilderness that passes for our school system, her son's friends decided to take care of the situation themselves, despite his pleas that they forget about it. Ross says she repeatedly called the principal's office, leaving messages warning about the escalating situation. Her calls weren't returned, she says. Then the officers showed up.

Ross, who is quite familiar with the student handbook, is perplexed by one thing -- why the kids whom school security was trying to protect her son from were in school while she had to keep her son out. According to the school handbook, the kids had racked up enough offenses for potential expulsion.

Meanwhile, across town at Bradley Francis Middle School, trouble is brewing again for Brittnay, a 13-year-old we've written about before. She was suspended last month for trying to fight off two girls Huntersville police charged with assaulting her in the school parking lot. Once again, she says, the girls and their friends are threatening to jump her. And once again, Brittnay is going to school officials about it, with few results. According to the school handbook, the punishment for a threat that is "specific, logical and can be carried out" is a 10-day suspension. Instead, a letter her parents just received from CMS suggests that the school might put Brittnay into mediation. Brittnay doesn't need mediation. She needs a bodyguard to protect her from kids who, according to the school handbook, should have been given the boot months ago.

Like me, Ross believes that some principals aren't dealing with students who harass, rob and assault others because that would mean creating a record of it. That, in turn, would mean acknowledging that the county's poorest schools are also among its most dangerous -- a fact I have no doubt certain school officials would go to great lengths to conceal from the suburban parents whose children they are trying to attract to these schools. Worse yet, actually applying the student code as written would mean expelling large numbers of students or clumping them in management-style schools, which would be a political disaster. That many of these children are likely to be low-income kids from single parent homes makes the issue even more of a conundrum for the school system.

As of deadline, 10 guns had been confiscated by CMS officials in the last four months. Now school officials want to study how other systems deal with guns and maybe bring in some extra security in January.

But the question nobody is asking, the one that no one seems to want an answer to, is why kids are bringing guns to school. The answer is a simple one. They're either used to preying on others and believe that there will be no consequences because there never were before, or they've been preyed on for so long that bringing a gun to school for protection begins to make sense.

Kids who believe there will be consequences don't bring guns to school. They don't threaten, assault and rob other kids. Yet for some reason, a growing number of CMS students have apparently come to the conclusion that there are no consequences. Until we pinpoint exactly why that is, this problem will only get worse.

We have a choice to make. We can either demand that CMS Superintendent James Pughsley and the school board pull their heads out of their rear ends and deal with this problem now, or we can let them get away with making cosmetic security changes and deal with it after they roll the bodies of the school shooting victims into a waiting ambulance before a national television audience.

At the rate we're going here, the second scenario is looking more likely with each passing day. If a school shooting or assault that seriously injured or killed someone took place a month ago, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board and Pughsley could have feigned shock or ignorance of the problem. If it happens a month from now, given what they know, they'll have as much blood on their hands as the kid who pulled the trigger or wielded the knife.

Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com.

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