CMS prepares to deploy transparent backpacks in a pilot program this spring, other security measures continue

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) — Two high schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are preparing to pilot see-through backpacks in an effort to keep guns out of schools.

This district announced it would order see-through backpacks in the wake of increased violence and guns on school campuses.

In November, the district spent nearly $442,000 on see-through backpacks for high school students. 46,000 transparent backpacks were purchased.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Earnest Winston said Cochrane Collegiate Academy and Hopewell High School would be the pilot for the first round of clear backs.

The superintendent said it would give students a chance to experience and experience what the backpacks look like. The backpacks will be distributed to all high schools later this spring.

“The real goal behind taking this approach is to be able to implement in these two schools and learn from this initial implementation and incorporate that into the overall implementation later this spring,” said declared Winston.

The binders received mixed reviews from parents and students. Over the past few months, both parties have been sharing their thoughts with WBTV. Some students said they thought it would not be effective and that students would still try to bring guns onto campus.

Others think it might deter students from bringing guns. Other students say they thought the materials wouldn’t be strong enough to support their Chrome textbooks and books, and many said they worried the clear bags would be an invasion of privacy.

Hopewell High School is in the district of board member Rhonda Cheek.

“I think we need to make a solid driver and make sure that’s an advantage for him, troubleshoot, make sure we have good guidelines on that. We need to make sure students have a small, secure protective pouch in their backpack, potentially for personal care items,” said District 1 Board Member Rhonda Cheek.

In November, district leaders indicated there would be expected delays for clear book bags due to supply chain issues.

Officials confirmed to WBTV that the bags were delivered in February. Officials say the timeline for the pilot program has not yet been communicated to them.

Neala Kuykendall is a student at Hopewell High School, where two guns were found on campus last semester.

With only a few months left in the school year, Kuykendall says it would have been better to get the see-through backpacks on campus sooner.

“I think it’s a bit too late, but ‘I kinda understand the timing issue, it’s a blow to get so many school bags for a lot of students,'” Kuykendall said.

Despite this, Kuykendall said she was ready to use a see-through backpack and encourage her peers to do the same.

“I think we should have had a better comprehensive plan and launched it with the community first and maybe taken feedback initially before buying a lot of stuff,” Cheek said.

The first firearm reported on a CMS campus was on August 26 at Mallard Creek High School, since then 24 other firearms have been reported at several other high schools, a middle school and an elementary school.

During the first week of school, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department held a press conference about the fighting and the weapons found on campus.

District 1 board member Rhonda Cheek says she first heard staff talking about see-through backpacks around this time.

“It was brought up by our Chief of Police CMS just after some of the gun incidents started happening, so early in the school year,” Cheek said.

Hopewell High School has also started a parent-run volunteer program, “Titan Dads and Moms on a Mission”. The program includes parent volunteers in an effort to prevent fights and other violence during the school day.

Hopewell High School also has a Zen room to help students manage their emotions.

Other security measures include doubling the number of random security checks, launching the Say Something anonymous reporting system and adding additional body scanners.

On Tuesday, Winston said at least 60 security checks have been completed so far this school year. He said no firearms were found during the screenings. Common items found during screenings were vape pens, tasers and over-the-counter prescription drugs.

Additionally, building assessments have been conducted for schools to implement body scanners.

Winston says the contract for body scanners for the schools’ first phase, which includes seven schools, is complete. There are also schools in Phases 2 and 3.

Phase 1 high schools include Harding University, Hopewell, Julius Chambers, West Charlotte, North Mecklenburg, Garinger, and Mallard Creek.

“I think it will help too, but I’m worried about its effectiveness,” Kuykendall said. “Schools with multiple entrances and exits, I wonder how metal detectors [will work] and how many they might have.

Three of the Phase 1 schools are in Cheek District.

“To me, backpacks always make sense if you have a body scanner because just like getting into the Panther stadium, you need to have a clear backpack and that gets you through those body scanners really quickly before the matches,” Cheek said.

Cheek thinks the combination of see-through backpacks and body scanners will work.

“I think the backpacks improve that process, so for me it was more of a tag team on those two items than the two being standalone.”

Winston says they plan to receive the body scanners during spring break, in mid-April.

The state denied the district’s request to use US bailout funds for scanners. The scanners will be funded by capital expenditure funds generated by items such as cell tower leases. In addition, the district will use payment for easements.

“The supplier will train our staff members and install these body scanners for us,” Winston said.

The district also launched the “Say Something” anonymous reporting system in February in middle and high schools.

Winston says more than 500 tips have been submitted between different middle and high schools.

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