Hawthorne Academy students leave class, express anger over student suspended for reporting sexual assault

WBTV Investigates: School officials announced a “town hall” after students had planned to walk out of the school in protest
Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 4:48 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Students at Hawthorne Academy High School in Charlotte left class Wednesday morning to voice their concerns about a student at the school who was suspended after reporting being sexually assaulted.

The demonstration took place early Wednesday morning, after school administrators announced a “town hall” for students.

Before the announcement, students had planned to leave class on their own in protest.

A crowd that appeared to be more than 100 students gathered outside to discuss the school’s handling of reported sexual violence and, specifically, the student who detailed to WBTV being suspended after she reported being sexually assaulted.

Some students called it “victim-blaming,” as other students in the crowd applauded.

The girl and her mother have still not heard an explanation for why she was suspended.

Previous: A CMS student reported being sexually assaulted. Then she was suspended.

Previous: CMS board members won’t answer questions about student suspended after reporting sexual assault

The mother told WBTV Investigates that she did get a call from the principal Wednesday morning to say her daughter was rude getting off the bus.

The girl was suspended late last month after reporting being sexually assaulted by a male classmate.

She said she reported the sexual assault to school officials after sitting through a Title IX education class at the beginning of the school year.

School officials alerted police to the report. CMPD investigated and ultimately pressed charges against a minor for sexual battery as a result of the female student’s report, a CMPD spokesman confirmed.

Despite the charges by police, school administrators at Hawthorne Academy High School accused the female student of filing a false report and suspended her.

On Tuesday, WBTV Chief Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner took the concerns to Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board members, who refused to answer questions.

Ochsner first emailed the Hawthorne Academy Principal and spokesmen for Superintendent Earnest Winston and the CMS school board last Tuesday, October 26.

The Hawthorne Academy Principal, Diann Weston, did not respond to multiple emails.

A spokesman for Winston, Patrick Smith, would not agree to schedule an interview with Winston and did not respond to questions about how a CMS student could be suspended for reporting a sexual assault. But did send a statement.

“District leaders review assertions of Title IX reporting problems and will take appropriate action in the event any review reveals action is necessary,” Smith said in an email statement.

A spokesman for the school board, Charles Jeter, did not respond to an email seeking an interview for the story.

When Ochsner caught up with board member Margaret Marshall, she wouldn’t answer his questions.

“I don’t have any information about it,” Marshall said, despite having received an email the night before with a link to the story.

A 15-year-old girl reported being sexually assaulted by a fellow student at school. Police investigated and filed charges.

Board chairwoman Elyse Dashew also refused to comment, first saying she didn’t comment on student matters and, later, asking a security officer to escort her out of the public meeting room and through the hallway in an effort to avoid facing further questions.

“How does that square with what you said just a few months ago about wanting students to report and feel safe?” Ochsner asked Dashew of her refusal to comment on the student who was suspended after reporting being sexually assaulted.

“Thank you,” Dashew responded. “You are not the person that I would convey that message to, so thank you very much.

Then, WBTV got no response from board member Jennifer De La Jarra.

When a reporter tried to ask De La Jara questions about whether she thought it was appropriate for the Hawthorne Academy student to be suspended after reporting being sexually assaulted, she said she needed to eat lunch.

“I’m going to have my lunch,” she said, as a reporter asked questions.

Eventually, De La Jara left the room where salads had been laid out for school board members, walked through a hallway and ducked into a bathroom to avoid further questions.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston released this statement to parents:

“As a parent, I understand the concerns many families are sharing about news coverage of incidents of misconduct. It is difficult for me to not give in to the parental instinct of providing information to help others gain a better understanding of situations, which many times prove more complex than news reports might lead one to conclude.

As the leader of the district, I am bound by law to not disclose confidential information about such matters as individual student discipline or ongoing police investigations.

We take all allegations of misconduct very seriously, and our staff is trained to follow proper procedures in reporting. District leaders review assertions of Title IX reporting problems and will take appropriate action in the event any review reveals action is necessary.

Earlier this year, I requested the creation of a Title IX task force. That task force has been working together to discuss recommended improvements in how our district handles allegations of misconduct. In a few weeks, I will receive a report from the task force. I will review the report for recommendations to make our schools safer.”

Read more of WBTV’s investigation into CMS’s handling of reported rapes & sexual assaults

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