N.C. Schools Report More Violence, Drugs

More weapons and drugs were found in N.C. schools last year, as districts reported a 15 percent increase in crimes and violence, according to an annual state report released this week.

But state officials and local activists questioned some statistics reported by North Carolina's 115 school districts.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, for instance, reported about as many total incidents as Guilford County and less than half the total reported by Wake County. That raised doubts since CMS has 114,000 students, while Guilford has 66,000 and Wake has 109,000.

"It seems a little bit unrealistic," said Cheryl Pulliam of the nonprofit Charlotte Advocates for Education. "It could relate to how diligent people are in reporting ... and whether the definition of the crime is consistent across the state."

CMS spokeswoman Jerri Haigler said Friday afternoon the district official who oversees the data CMS supplies for the report could not be reached. Haigler said she's sure the district's numbers are accurate.

"We have worked very hard to fully understand the reporting measures and what the state is asking for and to train our staff," Haigler said.

The report tracks 17 categories of incidents, ranging from bomb threats to robberies to sexual offenses. Overall, the state reported 9,800 crimes or acts of violence in 2003-04, up from 8,548 incidents the previous year. The rate per 1,000 students increased from 6.581 to 7.371.

The increase surpassed enrollment growth across the state, and the total is the second-highest since the report was first released after the 1993-94 school year. In 2001-02, there were 10,951 acts, or 8.3 per 1,000 students.

More than 90 percent of last year's incidents involved students possessing drugs or alcohol, assaulting school staff without causing serious injury or carrying a weapon other than a gun or powerful explosive.

State officials said schools have installed metal detectors and done a better job policing. But they also plan to dig deeper.

"This year's numbers indicate a need for more detailed analysis of the causes behind the increase," State Superintendent Patricia Willoughby said in a written statement.

CMS reported 467 incidents involving drugs, alcohol or weapons other than guns, up from 351 the previous year. Haigler, the district spokeswoman, said CMS has added five security guards and now does random metal detector scans each day, including searches in middle schools.

"We have increased our efforts and have been even more vigilant, and that's why we found more," she said.

Overall, CMS -- the state's largest district -- reported 537 incidents, more than any other system except Wake County. Its rate of 4.747 incidents per 1,000 students was one of the state's 20 lowest.

By comparison, Guilford reported 497 incidents, or 7.639 per 1,000 students. And Wake had 1,081 incidents, or 9.955 per 1,000 kids.

"It's unusual that there would be that big of a difference," said Marvin Pittman, director of the state Department of Public Instruction's division of school improvement, whose office handles the report. "It would cause you to wonder why. I just don't know without doing more work or more study, and I'm sure that's something our safe schools section will do."