Politics & Government

Crime down in NC schools, but gun possession and sex offenses increased on campuses

CMS’ new safety screening measures include dogs and metal detectors

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief of staff Laura Francisco talks about 3 different screening models that include wands, metal detectors and gun powder dogs.
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief of staff Laura Francisco talks about 3 different screening models that include wands, metal detectors and gun powder dogs.

At a time when fears are up after the Parkland mass school shooting, a new report shows more guns are being found in North Carolina public schools — even though overall acts of reported school crime are down.

The report shows that 128 acts of possession of a firearm or powerful explosive were reported in the state’s schools during the 2017-18 school year. That’s 23 cases more than the 2016-17 school year, or a 22 percent increase. (More than one student can be charged when a gun is found on campus.)

Overall though, the number of acts of school crime and violence reported in North Carolina’s public schools dropped by 87 to 9,747 last school year. The number of criminal acts per 1,000 students dropped from 6.48 to 6.41.

Detailed school crime figures for individual school districts, traditional public schools and charter schools have not been released yet.

The school crime and violence report, which also includes data on student suspensions and dropouts, will be presented at next week’s State Board of Education meeting.

The fatal shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018 sparked a national debate about how to make schools safer. In North Carolina, proposals have been floated such as more police officers and mental-health workers in schools, improving building security and teaching students about civic responsibility.

Earlier this school year, a student was fatally shot at Butler High School in Matthews. That resulted in additional security measures, such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system conducting random searches for guns at schools.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox says the school system will be conducting random searches.

Amid the debate, the new school crime report provides both some encouraging and discouraging signs about safety in schools.

Sexual offenses are up 49 percent to 70;

Sexual assaults are up 1 percent to 115;

Possession of a controlled substance is up 7 percent to 4,589.

But possession of a weapon other than a firearm is down 8 percent to 2,534 and assault on school personnel is down 12 percent to 1,262. Assault resulting in serious injury was down 32 percent to 44 cases.

The report also found that the use of corporal punishment in schools has declined from 75 cases in the 2016-17 school year to 60 last school year. Corporal punishment was used as much as 891 times in the 2010-11 school year in North Carolina public schools.

But the last two North Carolina school districts that allowed the use of corporal punishment, Graham and Robeson counties, voted last year to end the practice.

The data on school suspensions was mixed.

The number of short-term suspensions, those which put a student out of school for 10 or less days, rose 1.3 percent to 211,228 statewide. But suspensions have decreased by 14.8 percent over the last five years as schools look for alternatives to removing students from school for their misbehavior.

The number of long-term suspensions continued to fall, dropping 3.2 percent to 673 statewide. Long-term suspensions have dropped 51 percent over the last five years.

State figures show that disruptive behavior and fighting were the top two reasons for short-term suspensions. Possession of a controlled substance and communicating threats were the top two reasons for long-term suspensions.

The state’s high school dropout rate continued to show improvement. There were 10,523 dropouts in the 2017-18 school year, 574 less than the year before.

North Carolina’s high school dropout rate improved to 2.18 percent, compared to 2.31 percent the year before. A decade ago, the state had 19,184 dropouts and a dropout rate of 4.27 percent.

Despite the overall improvement over time in suspension and dropout rates, racial gaps still exist. Black and Hispanic students are still more likely to be suspended or to drop out than white students.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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