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After weeks of silence, CMS superintendent responds to Myers Park students’ reports of rape, sexual assault

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 7:03 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 8:01 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston sat down with WBTV in an exclusive interview to address reports of rape and sexual assault at Myers Park High School.

Winston’s interview comes more than six weeks since WBTV’s story in early June highlighting the issue.

In total, WBTV has spoken with five former Myers Park students, each of whom reporting being raped or sexually assaulted by a fellow student between 2014 and 2019.

Two of those students have filed lawsuits against CMS, Myers Park and others alleging their reports were mishandled.

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

After WBTV’s first story aired in early June, the CMS board posted a statement on Facebook claiming—without specifics—that the station’s story was wrong and stating that the two women who filed lawsuits were not raped.

The statement was taken down roughly an hour later.

In his interview, Winston sought to distance himself from the statement.

“This question was asked of me previously about whether or not I saw the statement you’re referring to prior to it being posted. The answer to that is no,” Winston said.

“The concern is that this statement, to me, did not convey a sense to students that they were heard and that they were seen. And, to me, that doesn’t sit well.”

An email obtained by WBTV shows Winston saw a copy of the statement along with members of the school board moments before it was posted to Facebook and sought to delay its posting.

“Please hold. I have some grave concerns. Need to discuss with Elyse,” Winston wrote in response to the statement.

CMS General Counsel Andre Mayes responded saying it was too late.

“We have already discussed with Elyse and it has been posted with her approval,” Mayes wrote.

Elyse is Elyse Dashew, the CMS board chairwoman.

Even though records show Dashew approved posting the statement, Mayes later wrote board members to take responsibility for writing and posting the statement. In that email, though, she still stood by the statement’s claims as being accurate.

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

Winston began the interview by saying he had watched the WBTV interviews with each of the five former students.

“One of the things I feel is a sense that these women are extraordinarily brave, that they’ve shown a tremendous amount of strength and courage, one, for stepping up and being willing to share their stories,” he said.

“So, there is a sense of empathy and if I had a forum with them, I would tell them that I get it. I hear you and we take your concerns seriously.”

Despite that statement, Winston would not say whether he believed any of the women.

“So, do you believe them?” a WBTV reporter asked.

“I believe that all students should have their voices heard,” Winston said. “They should be seen. And I want to make sure that all students have an opportunity to express and tell their stories, and we have a process for them to do so.

“That wasn’t my question,” the reporter said. “Do you believe these women who say they were raped and sexually assaulted at Myers Park High School?”

“I believe we have a process that helps determine the facts of a case. But having said that, it’s important that every student feel like he or she has an opportunity to be able to tell their story and that it be investigated and that the proper protocols and processes are followed in all cases.”

When confronted specifically with the CMS board statement claiming the two women who filed lawsuits were not raped, Winston said he would not directly address those lawsuits and refused to say whether he agreed with the statement that was posted and quickly taken down by the board.

But Winston did say that, as superintendent, he was committed to ensuring every report of rape and sexual assault is properly investigated.

“Remember, I’m a parent of two CMS young ladies myself,” he said. “So I am committed to making sure that students have their voices heard, that they’re taken seriously. And if they report an incident involving sexual misconduct and it is not investigated, there will be consequences.”

Winston said that, in the wake of calls for action from CMS and Myers Park leaders, he has called a meeting with school leadership that will take place by the end of July “to make sure that everyone understands and is clear about how to report and respond and handle issues of sexual misconduct.”

Winston said his expectation is that the issue of proper reporting and handling of sexual misconduct is also “front and center” at student assemblies at the beginning of the school year.

And, he said, he wanted to incorporate more student voices into CMS’ discussion of the matter.

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

But among the action items Winston rattled off was the need to ensure students know how to properly report being raped or sexually assaulted; several school board members highlighted that need in their remarks last week, even though all five students WBTV interviewed properly reported their rape or sexual assault to both police and school administrators.

In a deposition under oath this past March, Myers Park principal Mark Bosco said he did not have an obligation to report students who said they were raped or sexually assaulted to police.

Winston, at first, demurred when asked whether that was correct but, eventually, acknowledged that reports of students being raped on campus should be reported to police.

In his closing answer, in response to a question about whether his weeks of silence had eroded trust for students and parents, Winston said he was speaking now in an effort to reinforce the steps he and CMS are taking to improve in handling reports of sexual misconduct.

“I want to reaffirm our commitment to creating an environment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools where every student feels safe, that they feel heard,” Winston said.

“That’s important to me and that’s why I’m talking to you today.”

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