What do you get when you mix the tension of testing, a surreptitious video by one of CMS' most prolific critics and a school police officer on a Segway?
Answer: A buzz about what happened when Larry Bumgarner volunteered to proctor exams at Independence High and ended up being escorted off campus and threatened with arrest.
Earnest Winston, the superintendent's chief of staff, says Principal Amy Dellinger and her staff acted appropriately when Bumgarner became disruptive during state testing.
Adding to the tension is the fact that the presidents of the district's two teacher groups, Judy Kidd of the Classroom Teachers Association and Charlie Smith of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, work at Independence and have different views of what happened.
Here's what I know: Many schools were in desperate need of proctors in May. State exams that have consequences for schools and teachers are supposed to get outside monitors to ensure the integrity of the system. Schools have to be careful that nothing occurs during testing that would violate state rules and invalidate the results.
Bumgarner agreed. He and CMS officials agree that during his first day as a volunteer he made a remark about working in "troubled" or "challenged" schools. A student's grandparent overheard the comment and complained to school administrators.
During his stint as an Independence proctor, Bumgarner also used his phone to shoot video of students in the classroom. At least four had their heads down, and one, who had a blue sneaker perched on his desk, glared at Bumgarner and shook his head. Bumgarner said Wednesday the students had gotten noisy when the teacher left the room and he shot the video to quiet them.
The next day, someone from Independence told Bumgarner he wasn't needed to proctor. Kidd, who says proctors were still needed, called Bumgarner. He came to the school and reported to a classroom that already had a proctor. Bumgarner was told again that he wasn't needed.
Smith says he saw that part of the encounter, and Bumgarner was "pitching a fit."
"He just stormed off," Smith said Wednesday. "He was irate and he was very rude. Everybody that I saw trying to deal with him was extremely professional and extremely polite."
Bumgarner went to the classroom where Kidd was stationed to proctor an exam. A campus security guard showed up, and that's when Bumgarner turned the phone on his belt onto video mode. In the recording that ensues, Bumgarner repeatedly urges the guard to call Mint Hill police and asks to talk to the principal.
"You're going to the office and you're getting ready to be arrested," the security guard says. "You have come here and disrupted testing. Have you lost your mind, mister?"
Bumgarner continues talking as they approach the school resource officer's office. "I'm tired of your mouth. Now shut up, you understand me?" the guard says.
The school resource officer wheels up on a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Segway, and Bumgarner is taken into the school security office. The decor captured on the video features an American flag and a life-size shooting-range target with bullet holes clustered around the center of a human silhouette. Other security staff gather in the office, but when Dellinger arrives she disperses them.
In the calm but disjointed conversation that follows, Bumgarner tells Dellinger that he did "show my displeasure" with what he considered a disorganized volunteer system, in which he and other volunteers were sent to rooms that already had proctors.
"This is the first year where our North Carolina finals have ever had proctoring," Dellinger responds. "We had 87 testing sessions, 67 proctors. That's a first in history."
Dellinger tells Bumgarner she got complaints about his comment that "I only work at troubled schools."
"Why do you feel that Independence is a troubled school?" she asks. "I'm just curious. I want to get feedback. It helps us grow."
Bumgarner asks for "a Q&A" with the concerned family members, refers to his web sites and urges Dellinger to look up her school on GreatSchools.org, a site where people submit reviews. "I assume I'm under arrest," Bumgarner states, and when Dellinger assures him he's not, he says he's going to go play golf.
"I want to extend my apology on behalf of us," Dellinger tells Bumgarner, adding that she should have asked him earlier about his remark.
Bumgarner, who was escorted out by a security staffer, says he called the superintendent's office to report the episode. He said Wednesday that Dellinger and the school officer were polite, but the talk of arrest was threatening and the atmosphere, including the Segway, is designed to intimidate. He said he is disappointed that he has not gotten an apology from CMS.
Winston said he spoke with Bumgarner and Dellinger, and "I don't have any evidence that anything was done incorrectly or that Larry was mistreated in any way." Winston said he heard about the "troubled schools" comment, but said Dellinger told him that wasn't why Bumgarner was turned away. Instead, he said, he was told the school simply had enough proctors that day.
"That's a lie," said Kidd, who said the teacher across the hall from her was trying to find a proctor as Bumgarner was being led away. "They should not have kicked the man off campus," she added.