19 investigation finds more guns, less security at CMSD schools last year

19 Investigates obtained these pictures of actual guns brought into CMSD by students this past...
19 Investigates obtained these pictures of actual guns brought into CMSD by students this past school year.(Anonymous Source)
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 7:21 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Just last week a 16-year-old football player was shot to death outside Glenville high school.

That tragedy combined with all the recent gun violence this year in schools across the country has many parents on high alert as their kids head back to class.

A 19 investigation discovered a troubling trend in the CMSD school district; more students are bringing guns onto school property.

19 Investigates found that these guns are not just being brought to school by high schoolers. There were some cases where elementary school kids were caught with loaded firearms.

According to reports from CMSD, at least 12 students were busted bringing some type of gun into school last year, that includes everything from 9mm handguns to bb guns, but an anonymous source working for the district believes that number is much higher.

“You can’t just throw up some metal detectors, cameras, and equipment, hold a press conference, tell parents you’re doing something and then a year from now, you won’t even dedicate an hour or two in training, you have to make sure that school safety is a part of your culture,” explained national school security expert, Ken Trump.

From Uvalde, Texas to Parkland, Florida, to Newtown, Connecticut, the tragedies have continued to occur more and more frequently in America over the past twenty years. Ken Trump has made a career out of school safety. He started out working for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He was an investigator for the youth gang unit and then was promoted to school security director. Eventually, he started his own national consulting business.

According to data from CMSD, last school year 8 guns were brought onto campus. Compare that with the most recent pre-COVID full-time school year which was the 2018-2019 school year and there were only 2 reports, that’s a 300 percent increase.

But that doesn’t even include bb guns or paintball guns. 19 Investigates has learned they recovered several of those last year as well. Trump said the data didn’t surprise him.

“As kids came back to school after COVID across the nation, we’ve seen an increase in aggressive behavior, violent behavior, as well as gun confiscations, loaded guns, and even gun use in schools across the country,” Trump said.

The CEO of CMSD Eric Gordon admitted gun violence is a growing problem in our city and in his school district.

“We’ve seen a spike in violence and gun violence,” Gordon said. “We also know from our kids that often our students get weapons because they fear for their life and so they use it as a safety measure.”

The number of school shooting threats CMSD has seen is on the rise too. According to reports from Cleveland police in 2018 the district received 6 threats, in 2019 that number went up to 11. For most of 2020 students learned remotely, but there were still 5 reported threats. When kids went back to class in 2021 that number jumped to 35.

“We routinely use a code blue, which means that there is a threat outside of the school building,” Gordon explained. “So, we tighten the security of the physical building itself.”

19 News asked Gordon what he’s doing to deter students from making these kinds of threats.

“Well, whenever we identify a student who has made a threat, we actually dispatch our police and Cleveland police to their home, it’s a crime and so you know, we, unfortunately, have to hold those students accountable through expulsion,” Gordon said. In that case, we don’t want to do that but that itself is the deterrent is that we will find you and we will expel you.”

19 News asked Gordon what he’s doing to beef up security in light of the increase in violence.

“Over the summer, we’ve also made a $900,000 investment to improve our cameras across the district,” Gordon explained. “We just got a $1.6 million grant to improve locks, PA systems.”

The district also updated its emergency response guide, and every school will do code red drills for the first three weeks.

Reports from this past school year reveal shocking crimes committed by children. In February of this year, a 6th grader brought a 9mm handgun into Dike Montessori Elementary School. A security officer found the gun inside his hoodie pocket. According to the report, the student was suspended for 10 days with the possibility of being expelled. A source with CMSD said they believe that often times these students are not criminally charged.

Under Ohio law, the superintendent must expel a student from school for one year if they’re caught with a gun on school property.

CMSD says if a student is caught with a gun they’re expelled for 180 days but this can be reduced on a case-by-case basis.

Trump believes school districts need to be harder on students who commit these kinds of crimes.

“School districts have historically underreported school crimes to maintain their image not to create increased anxiety among parents and there’s also an enormous amount of pressure on school administrators to reduce suspensions and expulsions and arrests in school,” Trump said.

It’s been 15 years since CMSD experienced the horror of a school shooting up close.

“I actually was on the 10th day of my job here and CMSD when the Success Tech tragedy occurred, it is the reason that we have metal detectors and bookbag scanners,” Gordon explained.

In 2007 a 14-year-old student shot two students and two teachers at Success Tech Academy before turning the gun on himself. The shooter was the only casualty.

“It’s also led to what we call humanware, or our long-term investment in the social and emotional needs of kids and adults, to make sure that kids don’t feel that urgent, again, like that young man did,” Gordon said.

Trump said many school districts jump into action following a tragedy but become complacent with security a few years later.

“The question isn’t whether a school shooting a wake-up call,” Trump said. “The question is will we hit the snooze button and go back to sleep six months or six years after a tragedy will we still focus the resources, the time, the attention to planning on safety and security as we do in the weeks and months after an incident and his history tells us we don’t.”

19 News asked Gordon if he thinks CMSD has maintained the same level of vigilance and security in the past 15 years since that shooting happened.

“You know, it’s hard to say because, you know, we have had so many safety protocols in place for so long,” Gordon said. “I will say that because of Uvalde and because we know how high anxiety is going to be coming into this year, we’ve put a lot of extra effort in this summer in particular.”

We wanted to know what steps the district takes when dealing with a student who has displayed violent behavior to ensure that their behavior doesn’t escalate.

“Every school has a student support team that the student should be referred to directly at the school site, we also have what’s called a rapid response team,” Gordon explained. “So, if we’re seeing a student demonstrating extreme behaviors, that’s where we can kick in school psychologists, mental health experts.”

The increase in violence and guns at Cleveland schools comes at the same time the district is struggling with a security staffing shortage. In the past five years, the district has gone from 24 CMSD officers to just 14 for every school in the district.

“Last year was a very tough year for staffing,” Gordon admitted. “We’ve worked on it all summer long; every single school will have at least one full-time officer. Many have more than one full-time officer and part-time officers. That was not the case last spring when we couldn’t find enough bodies and part of that again, is that our own commander Coates, who teaches our safety program at Glenville High School, actually led a summer program to train our officers for their Okada training. We’re really excited to have those 14 new officers joining us as well.”

According to the district, CMSD police officers are not stationed in any particular school. They patrol the neighborhoods around the schools and report to different schools as needed.

The district also has hired security officers, but that unit has been gutted too. CMSD went from having 168 security officers to cover its 96 buildings in 2018, but during the 2021-2022 school year there were only 132 security officers.

An anonymous source with CMSD told 19 News there were five or six buildings that had no security for most of the school year last year. Gordon admitted that was the case.

“There were buildings last year that we only had our mobile patrol or our part-time officers,” the CEO said.

Trump said it’s very important for an urban district like Cleveland to have adequate security.

“You need to make sure that you beef up your school security and police staff in a large district like Cleveland, because your outside resources, your local police department are already understaffed, taking too many calls,” Trump said.

Gordon says they are bringing 14 more security officers on this year. He admitted last year there were some schools that didn’t have any security officers assigned to the building, but he assured 19 News that this year they will have at least one security officer to cover each of CMSD’s 89 buildings. Gordon also said they are still actively recruiting security and CMSD police officers.

19 News has learned that just a bb gun was found in a backpack at John Adams high school on Wednesday.