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School board members break silence on Myers Park HS rape, sex assault reports

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 7:18 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2021 at 7:57 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Some members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education spoke out for the first time Tuesday night about reported rapes and sexual assaults at Myers Park High School.

The comments came at the end of the school board’s meeting, in which a half-dozen current and former students addressed the board and called on school leaders to take action in response to their reports, which were first exposed in a WBTV investigation. Earlier in the afternoon, students staged a protest outside of the government center ahead of the school board meeting.

Tuesday’s comments from four board members were the first in the six weeks since WBTV’s investigation first aired.

Previous: Myers Park High School students hold protest after claims of school, district mishandling reports of sexual assault and rape

Board member Rhonda Cheek was first to offer comments in response to the women who spoke Tuesday night.

“I was troubled when one of them said she was afraid that we had not heard from them or heard them because we really haven’t responded and you and I’ve spoken about how I’d like for us to have a more public response,” she said.

“But I’ll keep pushing the board and staff to make sure that at every level from the schoolhouse all the way through central office, through every department that everybody understands what the Title IX program is and how to implement it.”

Cheek was the first of several board members to call on students to report rape and sexual assault incidents directly to her, bypassing police and school administrators.

Board member Margaret Marshall, whose district includes Myers Park, echoed that call.

“I’m available, too, if anything comes to me in terms of a concern, I’m passing it on and so we want to make sure that anyone that has anything they feel uncomfortable with that we get that to the right folks in Title IX,” she said.

WBTV has spoken with five women who reported being raped or sexually assaulted by fellow Myers Park students between 2014 and 2019. Each student reported their incident to both police and school administrators. In every case, nothing came as a result of their report.

Despite that, some board members said students needed to be more aware of how to properly report an incident.

“Beyond that, just following the actual Title IX, exactly what it says, but the sensitivity with which the words that are used in the moment when something may even be just insinuated, ‘cause maybe it’s not even a clear accusation,” at-large member Jennifer De La Jara said.

“Sometimes people, you know, speak in ways that are indirect because they’re calling for help.”

Previous: More women detail reported rape, assault at Myers Park as school leaders remain silent

Chairwoman Elyse Dashew, who has previously refused to comment for WBTV’s investigation, also offered comments.

“I, too, want to thank all the young women for their courage tonight,” Dashew said. “There are a lot of people behind this dais who can relate. And I do expect in August, the superintendent and I have talked about doing a real deep dive into Title IX in our August meeting.”

Emails obtained by WBTV show Dashew previously approved a statement written by lawyers for CMS and posted to the school board’s Facebook page that claimed two students who reported being raped to school administrators in 2014 and 2015 were not, in fact, raped. The statement was posted to the school board’s website on the evening of June 10 and taken down roughly one hour later.

The school board lawyer, Andre Mayes, later apologized to school board members for the statement but said she stood by her claims, which included that students were not raped.

Like De La Jara, Dashew also claimed a need to increase awareness of how to report rape and sexual assault at CMS campuses.

“I can tell that there is a lot of work to do to raise awareness of how to report,” she said. “I believe that our students can actually help us with how to raise awareness.”

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