Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education Chairman Joe White made a heart-felt speech last week about how he has really been misunderstood on school discipline. His own kids will tell you he's pretty conservative about that, he said.
White can't be serious.
Since he assumed the school board chairmanship in 2003, there have been more than 150 assaults on school personnel, 18 sexual assaults, 27 assaults resulting in serious injury, 18 assaults involving the use of a weapon and 94 possessions of a firearm. And that's just a small sampling of school crime.
Tough? The only kids I've ever known White to be tough on were those like Lauren Jay. In 2003, The Charlotte Observer reported, Jay's mother begged school officials to reassign her daughter, a student at Alexander Middle School in Huntersville, after she was repeatedly assaulted on the bus and school grounds by two girls. They did little, despite her attackers' extensive disciplinary records. Jay, 13, was later beaten so badly by one of the girls that it required an hour-long surgery to repair her jaw. She spent weeks afterward drinking through a straw. But in White's world, the incident wasn't serious enough for anyone to actually be expelled.
In fact, school officials finally admitted last week what I've been writing in this space annually -- that no one has been expelled from the school system in at least five years.
The list of students White has been "tough" on includes the female student who was sexually assaulted in a bathroom at North Mecklenburg High School in April 2003. Her attacker, who was also a student at the school, was convicted of the crime and forced to register at a sex offender as a result. He was later allowed to return to West Mecklenburg High School as a 19-year-old freshman. Teachers there who were terrified of him wrote letters to White begging him to remove the sex offender.
"Please keep in mind that our students, just like our teachers, have rights as well," White wrote back to one of the teachers in a letter in which he reminded her that there is a "process and procedure" in place for such concerns. School system administrators later punished another teacher whom they believed had told Creative Loafing about the sex offender.
For two weeks in September 2005, a 13-year-old honors student was repeatedly sexually assaulted by two boys who alternately groped and fondled her on the school bus. It started with verbal sexual harassment, she says. Then it got out of hand.
CL obtained a copy of the confession one of the boys wrote for CMS administrators in which he admitted molesting her.
The girl's outraged father naturally assumed CMS administrators would do something about the incident, and they did. They allowed the girl to switch buses to avoid the boys. Now, rather than walking a few hundred feet to the bus stop, the girls' parents have to drive her to another stop a half-mile away. That's getting "tough" in White's world.
This year alone at CMS, there were 51 assaults on school personnel, eight sexual assaults, 10 sexual offenses, 13 assaults resulting in serious injury, 11 assaults involving the use of a weapon, five robberies with a dangerous weapon and 29 possessions of a firearm. Again, that's a small sampling of school crime. And no one was expelled.
CMS spokesperson LaTarzja Henry says that 1,541 students were excluded from regular school programs and assigned to either Derita Alternative School, Right Choices or Midwood/Tate Taps High School. The schools are for students with serious behavior problems. Assignment to these schools isn't permanent. Any student sent there can come back to mainstream classrooms, and they often do. (Under Superintendent Peter Gorman's new discipline program, which starts next year, assignments to these schools will extend until the end of the school year.)
Henry says another 70 students were excluded from all CMS schools this year for periods of between 11 and 365 days. But again, no one was expelled.
You can't underestimate the outrage this has caused among parents across the county who are well aware of what goes on at area schools because they hear about it daily. These are also the same parents who read the Observer's ongoing articles about CMS administrators' propensity for underreporting school violence to the state.
Is it any wonder they sunk the school bonds at the polls last time?
That's probably why school administrators and White announced last week that they are actually considering expelling eight (wow, eight!) students in the coming weeks -- a radical move for this school system given its disciplinary history.
They must really want that school bond money.