CORNELIUS – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools cannot guarantee students’ protection when they’re at school, CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison told a gym full of Hough High School parents last week.  

But what he did guarantee is that district personnel are doing all they can to make schools the safest place possible.

Morrison, Hough High Principal Terri Cockerham, Cornelius and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and CMS officials held an informative meeting in the evening May 1 to chat with parents about the bomb threats that occurred at Hough High over the past two weeks.

The school was evacuated twice on April 23 and once on April 29 after law enforcement received reports of an explosive device or a suspicious package on campus. Students and staff were evacuated to the football stadium until the building was searched and were given the all-clear to go back to class.

ConnectED messages were usually sent to parents to inform them what was happening – except when students were sent back to class on April 29. School leaders acknowledged that communication with parents could have been better.

“We should have sent an 'all-clear' ConnectED, but with all the events, it was overlooked, and I apologize for that,” Cockerham said.

On April 30, Cornelius police received another threat of a bomb on campus, but, based on the recommendation of bomb technicians that had previously been on campus and the lack of specific information about the threat, students were kept in class.

Tensions continued May 1 as students’ tweets and Facebook posts created unfounded rumors of another threat. CMS law enforcement and Cornelius police were present on campus during the day.

Three students have been arrested for being connected with these situations.

“I want the message to go out, you do something irresponsible, you will be held responsible for your actions,” Morrison said, creating an eruption of applause in the gym. 

The tone changed during a question-and-answer session when parents voiced their concerns, mainly over how the events were communicated to them when they were unfolding.

One mother explained that when she called the school after her son texted her that the school was under lockdown but didn’t know why, she was told her son was making an excuse to try to leave early. Less than a half hour later, she received an email from the school saying it had been in lockdown for nearly an hour.

Parents are teammates of the school, “but we can’t trust you if you lie to us,” she said.

Cockerham explained that clearer communication is something that will be looked at during a debriefing of the incidents and enhancement of the school’s incident plan.

A father referenced a note the school sent out May 1 to inform parents that their children were safe and included that the arrested students had made bad choices.

“When a letter like this is sent out to parents and students that say the students have made bad choices, I disagree with that,” he said. “I mean it should be in there that students made terroristic threats. We need to tell what’s really going on.”

Not all parents were upset, and some commended school administration for the way it handled the situations.

“I personally feel that the school has handled this really well,” Donna Poff told The Herald Weekly. Poff’s son is a Hough senior. “I don’t think they can report stuff that they don’t know. When you do that, you cause more confusion.”

Junior parent Elizabeth Padgett agreed, saying that she though majority of parents feel like the situation was handled appropriately.

“Instead of trying to point the finger at someone, it needs to get back to the kids,” she told The Herald Weekly. “We need to get our kids refocused, back in school.”