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Charity Bell gets tough

But is it tough enough?

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Watch out. West Mecklenburg High School Principal Charity Bell is getting tough. She picked a hell of a week to do it, as you'll see in a moment.

Last week, dozens of students and former students shared heartbreaking stories about being bullied with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board and the media. Then the school board held hands, sang "Kumbaya" and passed a politically correct anti-bullying policy and tied it to a thinly veiled diversity training program that is supposed to somehow stop bullying by promoting inclusion or something.

I actually pitied the kids, who had no idea they just got used in a feel-good public relations stunt. A couple of them actually said they wouldn't have been attacked, harassed or assaulted if the new policy had been in place. Others present, and a few confused media outlets, genuinely seemed to believe that the school board had done something significant. Exactly what it was that had really changed few could articulate, but things would be better now, the majority agreed.

At one point the whole circus devolved into pro-gay activists trading jabs with Bible-quoting counterparts who argued that homosexuality was a sin and that the new operating policy will include gay students as a protected class.

That part of the system's operating policy is new. But it is no different from what is written in the student handbook, which already lists gay students as a protected class. There is also a new system for reporting bullying, which will probably be just as easily ignored by many administrators as the old methods students used to report bullying. As school board member Ken Gjertsen correctly pointed out, like the existing system, there is no real mandate that anything the board passed last week actually be enforced.

Enter Principal Bell. A student brought a gun to West Mecklenburg High School two weeks ago, WBTV News reported, and pointed it at another student. Then last week, police broke up a violent fight at the school over the gun incident and arrested several students, WBTV said. An enraged Bell took to the school intercom.

"We are going to move to expulsion because you don't deserve to be at West Meck," she roared. Note that she didn't threaten to actually expel any one. Bell doesn't have the authority to do that. Her threat was so radical it actually attracted news coverage.

"I needed to let students know safety comes first and if there is ever a problem I am going to get on the loud speaker," she proudly told WBTV.

She's going to get on the loudspeaker? After kids threaten other kids with guns?

Achievement Zone Area Superintendent Curtis Carroll says he's all for Bell's "get tough" approach.

"Safe schools is real big, and I think Ms. Bell was letting students know real clearly that we are not going to have inappropriate behavior at West Meck High School," Carroll told WBTV. (Apparently we aren't going to have correct grammar, either.)

Anyone who thinks that school system administrators who respond to gun violence with vague threats of possible expulsion will give a rip if Johnny got picked on because he wears makeup to school is living in la-la land.

And did I mention that the old bullying and harassment policy in the student handbook is the same as the new one?

The old system didn't work so well, as those who have read my anti-bullying tirades in this space for years now. Largely under Superintendent Peter Gorman's watch, and under a near-identical system, the number of students who said they were troubled to some degree by harassment and bullying jumped from 28 percent to 40 percent in just two years.

More CMS teachers and staff members were assaulted in the first semester of this year than in the entire previous school year. Yup, those intercom rants are really making an impression on students.

Then there is the disparity in fear. Every year on an annual survey, roughly 80 percent of students at Providence High School tell administrators they feel safe at school. The number at Myers Park High School is similar. In fact, majorities of students in suburban schools tell administrators they feel safe. And similar, if slightly lower, numbers tell administrators that kids at their schools are well-behaved and that there aren't a lot of fights.

Across town, at Garinger High School, only 29 percent of students surveyed agree they feel safe in school in a newly released survey. Majorities or large majorities report that students aren't well-behaved at the school, that there are a lot of fights, that they waste a lot of time and that the principal doesn't know what goes on in the classroom. Only a third of students at Garinger agreed that teachers enjoyed teaching there.

What the school board essentially did last week was to offer the most at-risk kids in the system rainbow-colored platitudes and diversity training.

Making school a safe place to go each day, perhaps the only safe place in some students' daily lives, is apparently asking too much.

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