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Hey teachers!

Tell them hell no, you won't go

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Let me get this straight. Last semester at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, there were 22 kids caught with guns. That's more in one semester than in all of the previous school year.

In addition, there were seven sexual assaults, 15 sexual offenses, 25 assaults on school personnel, five assaults with a weapon, four assaults resulting in serious injury, 157 incidents of possession with a weapon and two robberies with a dangerous weapon. There were also over 1,300 calls for service to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, the Rhinoceros Times reported.

So how many kids did they expel? 200? Nope. 100? No. 50? Again, no. Try two. Yes, two.

When Creative Loafing interviewed Superintendent Peter Gorman a few weeks ago about school violence statistics (See "Checking in with Peter Gorman" in the Feb. 28 issue), he didn't have an explanation for why the system doesn't appear to be punishing serious offenders. Some may be in jail and unable to return to school, he suggested, but couldn't say how many.

He also didn't know anything about the case of Christopher Fonseca, which the Web site crimeincharlotte.com initially reported in December. Fonseca was charged with bringing a weapon on educational property in April 2006. He was back in school in December, when he was arrested again for having a gun on school property. Gorman said he was unaware of the case.

This week, the school system announced it was finally cracking down hard -- on teachers.

At the beginning of the year, the school system put 84 teachers at the system's four lowest-performing high schools on "action plans" and told to improve their students' test scores or face losing their jobs.

The system fired 21 of them and another 18 left on their own. I'm all for making teaching highly competitive by paying teachers according to the results they achieve and pushing those who don't cut it out of the profession. But it is a slap in teachers' faces to fire them when the kids they teach are allowed to assault them with impunity, spit in their faces (literally) and run buck wild.

It's absurd to waste the public's money to offer talented teachers an extra $15,000 and a 15 percent pay raise to baby-sit human debris that don't belong in our school system, then blame these teachers when they quit or fail to raise test scores. It would be an outrage to force talented teachers into these schools if none move voluntarily until the administration cleans up this mess.

Take West Mecklenburg High School, for instance. What talented teacher would want to teach at a school where last semester eight kids were caught with guns, two school personnel were assaulted, there were three assaults resulting in serious injury, one assault with a weapon and two sexual offenses when in all likelihood the kids who committed those crimes are still in school?

Gorman's timing on this is ironic. His plan for turning the school system around promised the exclusion and expulsion of CMS' worst students "if necessary." It also promised a four-tier system of alternative placement schools for these kids by January 2007 to get them out of the combat zone that is the classroom. The last time I checked, it was March, and this has yet to happen.

Gorman now says he'll have these new schools up and running by August. But school board member Trent Merchant, who supplied CL with the violence numbers above in February, says the school board has yet to discuss any changes to the discipline system this year.

That's incredible considering that a School Building Solutions Committee poll last year found that 70 percent of voters believe there is a lack of discipline in our schools. Those would be the same voters who sunk the school bond package last year in a show of no-confidence in CMS.

All of this puts teachers in the best bargaining position they've been in for years. As a group, perhaps lead by one or both of the system's two teachers' advocacy groups, they must refuse to transfer into these schools until Gorman and the school board alter their discipline policy to expel or permanently divert out of mainstream schools every kid who commits the violent acts named above. Teachers should also demand a hand in rewriting that discipline policy.

Teachers owe it to the good kids in our school system -- and there are many -- to take a stand. In a survey of the school system last year, only 26 percent of students at West Mecklenburg said they feel safe at school. The percentage of students who feel safe at the other three low-performing high schools stacks up like this: Garinger 28 percent, Waddell 53 percent and West Charlotte 52 percent.

Contrast that to suburban Butler High School, where 82 percent of students report they feel safe and ask yourself if this is fair to the students or the teachers at these schools.

School leaders must hold up their end of the bargain on school discipline, and there is unfortunately only one way that is going to happen. Teachers must embarrass them into it.

Teachers, tell them hell no, you won't go until they clean up this mess.

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