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Shooters in school

Can CMS separate students from guns?


First, Lawrence Eric Chapman stole a car. Four months later, he brought a .45 to school. They gave him probation on both counts. While on probation, he was charged with stealing 12 more cars, convicted of stealing nine of them, and spent a few months in prison on two of the charges.

Meanwhile, Tyrice Terrell Givens was building a name for himself as the leader of the Crips gang at Independence High School, The Charlotte Observer later reported. In September of last year, Givens was arrested at school for disorderly conduct. He came right back, and less then two months later, according to the Observer, Givens beat another student so badly in a fight outside the cafeteria that the student had to be hospitalized.

In January, Givens and Chapman collided in a hail of bullets on Burkland Drive in the Wendover Road area. Chapman, 20, shot and killed Givens, 17, during an attempted robbery.

When kids get caught with guns in school, school board members like to lecture parents about keeping their guns locked up, as if these kids innocently stumbled across them in dad's junk drawer.

The reality is that these "students" are hardened street thugs. Our community crime problem and our school crime problem are one and the same. The kids stealing a dozen cars, the kids sticking .45s in convenience store clerks' faces and the kids committing assaults with a deadly weapon resulting in serious injury outside school grounds are the same ones who are bringing weapons to school and committing violent crimes there.

The schools know exactly who they are. So do the courts. And no one chooses to do anything about it.

A while back, I started pulling the records of every person charged with murder in this county. I'd say, conservatively, that at least a quarter of them have a charge of bringing a gun or weapon to school on their records. Lately, as I've started tracking several dozen young men who commit about one armed robbery or assault with a deadly weapon a month -- only to be churned back on the street -- I've noticed a trend. Many were charged at least once with bringing a gun or weapon to school, some of them recently. Or they committed a violent crime at school. In fact, I have no doubt some of them are still in school.

To deal with this, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman is opening a series of additional "discipline schools," including doubling from three to six the number of suspension centers where teachers will work with kids suspended for less than 10 days.

Kids who commit "more serious offenses," like fighting, would spend up to 30 days at another new suspension center. And kids who commit the "most serious" crimes, like assaulting staff, will go to Derita Alternative School for the remainder of the school year.

But it's what's left unsaid in Gorman's plan that really sticks out. What will happen to the 22 kids caught during the first semester of school this year with guns in school? Or how about the kids who committed the 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 of a weapon or the two robberies with a dangerous weapon? (Again, all of that was just in the first semester of this year.)

When you consider that last year, facing similar statistics, CMS expelled just six students out of 125,000, the answer is clear.

After a 30-day siesta or at worst a year at Derita, the majority of these kids will be right back in the classroom. And CMS can't be trusted to hit kids with long-term suspensions, either. Last year, the Wake County Schools doled out 1,009 long-term suspensions. CMS handed out just 34.

There is a simple reason for all of this. Gorman simply doesn't have the votes on the school board to expel more of these kids. He knows that actually kicking significant numbers of violent kids out of school would be an explosive issue for this school board during a time when he needs its unity to back a half-billion-dollar plan for new schools.

School board member and former school resource officer George Dunlap once wrote a column in The Charlotte Post acknowledging that there were rapists in our schools -- and that "troubled" kids shouldn't be denied an education. Let anyone suggest that we should consider pulling kids who are on their second or third armed robbery from mainstream schools, and board member Vilma Leake gets huffy and whines about educating "all our children."

And that's the root of the problem. This community needs to forget about taking guns away from students and take the students with the guns away from the school board.

In our court system, most kids get probation or suspended sentences for bringing guns to school -- even if they were already felons, had violent criminal histories and could have faced serious prison time. A no-tolerance policy on the part of the district attorney's office -- that means no plea deals -- for these kids, and particularly for felons who bring guns to school, would wipe out the worst of this problem.

Unfortunately, it will probably take a couple of bullet wounds on campus before someone figures this out.