As CMS expands weapon detectors, history shows implementation won’t be without hiccups

·4 min read

Last year, 31 guns were found on the campus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, including four found at middle and K-8 schools.

The latter number was enough to convince CMS officials to expand weapon detectors from just high schools to all the district’s middle and K-8 schools for the upcoming school year.

Channel 9′s education reporter Jonathan Lowe asked CMS leaders if the security measures will be ready for the first day of class on Monday.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: CMS releases proposed list of schools that could get weapon detectors first this fall

“By the start of school, no,” said Shayla Cannady, chief communications officer for CMS. “We had to phase (implementation) out based on product availability and install and staffing.”

Cannady said the district will take a three-phase approach to the expansion.

The process first got underway last week -- during the third week of August. The next phase will start in September with the expected completion coming sometime in October.

Channel 9 got a draft planning sheet from CMS of the implementation outline after a public records request. It details how 94 Evolv weapon detectors will be deployed across the 48 middle school and K-8 campuses.

“We made sure that our staff is properly trained, but students are being informed about what they can expect with the presence of these body scanners,” Cannady said.

READ MORE: SC district gives inside look into safety technology being used in its schools

The district already spent $5 million last school year to install the detectors at district high schools. This school year, they plan to add nine more across some high schools.

“Right now, we can all agree that our students and staff want to work in a place where they feel safe,” Cannady said. “Feedback and the reception of the installations of these body scanners has been positive.”

But the additions have also been challenging.

An email from the Ardrey Kell High School principal from May of 2022, released from the district after a public records request, outlines some of the issues.

In the email to district officials, the principal said “the scanners were a cluster today.”

“If you have multiple binders or spiral notebooks in your bag then it lights up and we must search,” her email said. “Currently, the reality is that ‘weapons of mass instruction’ set off almost every child as they walk through.

“Today was probably the least safe day at (Ardrey Kell) as all hands were at the front doors instead of monitoring kids throughout the building.”

Laptops, like the district issued Chromebooks, have also been a hiccup.

The laptops CMS students typically bring to school and which ones set off the detectors during a district test this summer. Those in green cleared the detector, those in red set off the alarm.
The laptops CMS students typically bring to school and which ones set off the detectors during a district test this summer. Those in green cleared the detector, those in red set off the alarm.

The graphic above highlights the laptops students typically bring to school and which ones set off the detectors during a district test this summer.

Those in green cleared the detector, those in red set off the alarm.

Based off the setting CMS uses, more than half of the laptops tested set off the Evolv weapon detectors.

The district said it has been instituting workarounds.

“I don’t want to be specific to just a Chromebook,” Cannady said. “Students are being requested or asked to either put their Chromebooks or devices in front of them or above them, so giving some distance between the body and the device.”

ALSO READ: CMS leaders talk about safety measures for upcoming school year

Channel 9 took the concerns to Evolv co-founder Michael Ellenbogen.

“We are constantly improving the performance of the system and one of our goals is to reduce or eliminate the alarms from other objects,” he said

Ellenbogen said the company’s detectors are used in 16 school districts across the country, scanning 300,000 students by the end of last year.

“Not only are we seeing a nice smooth flow in the front door, so no lines building up, (we are) also seeing a significant reduction in the anxiety that students and educators have in the classrooms,” he said. “They know that everyone coming in that facility is being screened for any type of concealed firearm, or any other threat”

Ellenbogen continued, “There have been multiple firearms found at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools by this system. The slight inconvenience of having to remove a laptop or a Chromebook from your backpack as you’re walking through the system is, I would think, a small price to pay to have a safe environment.”

In a June email, Jonathan Blum, chief operations officer for CMS, said it would be helpful to buy Chromebooks for students that clear the scanners.

It’s unclear if that option has been explore any further or how expensive that would be.

Our partners at the Charlotte Observer have a detailed look at the promise and problems shown during the first few months of weapon detectors in CMS schools. Read their full coverage here.

(WATCH BELOW: CMS approves budget, includes pay bumps)