At Lake Norman Charter School, where almost 1,600 students in grades 5-12 went to school last year, the only criminal or violent acts reported in 2012-13 were two cases of weapons other than guns.
In east Charlotte, KIPP Charlotte charter school reported one assault on school staff and Sugar Creek Charter reported one sexual assault (touching private parts against the person's will). That put Sugar Creek, which had 858 students in grades K-8, at 1.2 acts per 1,000 students and the smaller KIPP, which serves grades 5-8, at 3 acts per 1,000. Both charters serve mostly African American students from low-income families.
Sitting right between the two charters is CMS' Martin Luther King Middle School, with similar demographics. It reported 11 students caught with alcohol, five with weapons other than guns and four with drugs. There were three assaults on personnel, two assaults with weapons and one sexual assault, for a rate of 27.6 acts per 1,000 students.
That pattern plays out over and over when you look at the 2012-13 state crime and violence report. I calculated an average for 16 charter schools in Mecklenburg or just across county lines. Half of them -- Carolina International School, The Community School, Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, Queens Grant, Crossroads High, Community School of Davidson, Socrates Academy and Corvian Community School -- reported no crime or violence last year. All totaled, the 16 schools served a total of 11,659 students last year and averaged 1.8 acts per 1,000.
That compares with an average of 9.9 in CMS (which had 27 of 160 schools with no criminal/violent acts), 5.1 in Cabarrus, 3.5 in Gaston, 7.5 in Iredell-Statesville, 5.8 in Lincoln and 8.2 in Union County.
So what does that mean? I didn't hear back after leaving messages at Lake Norman and Queens Grant.
The CMS response was skeptical. "I certainly wouldn't say that charter schools are safer than CMS," said Chief Communications Officer Kathryn Block. "We have to remember that this is self-reporting." She noted that CMS takes the state mandate seriously, though "I can't speak for what other entities may or may not report."
It's possible that some schools underreport. Several years ago CMS logged remarkably low numbers on this very report. One of my colleagues delved into police reports and showed that those numbers were far below reality. CMS acknowledged the flaws and started reporting much higher tallies.
And among supporters of traditional public schools, there are always rumblings that charters force out troublemakers. The suspension/expulsion section of the crime/violence report doesn't seem to support that -- I counted 10 long-term suspensions and two expulsions from the Charlotte-area charters -- but it's possible that some students are "counseled out" and return to district schools.
Still, this seems to be one of the intriguing questions about what charter schools bring to the mix. I've heard parents say they opt for charters because they consider them safer and more orderly. These numbers seem to bolster their belief.