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‘I was already scared.’ Second Hawthorne Academy HS student says she was told to stay silent about reported sexual assault

WBTV Investigates: Student says she had to sign an nondisclosure agreement
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 5:51 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2021 at 6:22 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Rashika Chamlagai was involved in almost everything as a student at Hawthorne Academy High School.

The 2020 graduate was active in student government and other activities. She also grew close to the school’s principal, Diann Weston, who Chamlagai described as a mentor.

One of the things Chamlagai did at the school was change the school sign.

She was startled one day when she was walking back from changing out the sign with a male friend.

“He was kind of, like, touching me and stuff. And I started walking a little faster because I felt really uncomfortable,” Chamlagai recalled.

“When I turned around, like, half of his pants were down.”

Chamlagai said the male student exposed himself.

“When I tell you I turned so red, like, I froze,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what to do because I was like, what the heck?”

Rashika Chamlagai says she was forced to sign an NDA after reporting being sexually assaulted...
Rashika Chamlagai says she was forced to sign an NDA after reporting being sexually assaulted by a classmate at Hawthorne Academy High School in 2019.(Corey Schmidt)

Chamlagai went to Weston and told her what happened.

Weston, Chamlagai said, immediately went from making her coffee to getting on the phone, calling the school’s two assistant principals and reaching out to other Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials.

Related: CMS failed to track reported rapes, assaults on campus

The male student was called in to be interviewed and Chamlagai said she spent hours sitting in the office.

And then, after just a few hours, Weston and the other administrators decided nothing happened.

“The same day, they later came by and told me we didn’t find anything on camera,” Chamlagai recalled.

“I was shocked because I know the camera can get from the front of the school all the way up to the main sign, where it is. I know that because I have seen it in the security room before.”

As stunned as Chamlagai was by the quick dismissal of her report, she was petrified by what happened next.

“I was sitting in the principal’s room, like, facing a wall, she was like ‘don’t text your friends, don’t text your family, no one should know what happened,’” Chamlagai recalled.

She said the assistant principal gave her a form to sign, which Chamlagai referred to as a non-disclosure agreement.

The agreement, Chamlagai said, included ten bullet points. The main one that still sticks out to her today is that she would not be able to speak about her reported sexual assault until she graduated.

“I signed the NDA because I was overwhelmed and I felt pressure because I didn’t know what was going to happen if I didn’t,” Chamlagai said.

“I thought if I didn’t sign it, maybe something permanent could go on my record or something that could affect me getting into a good college and stuff like that.”

Chamlagai said the assistant principal called her mom but didn’t go into detail about what happened and did not explain the form Chamlagai was being asked to sign.

Because she signed an agreement to not discuss the incident with anyone else, Chamlagai said she felt she could not discuss what happened with her parents or report the sexual assault to police.

“I was already scared so I didn’t take any action,” she said.

Chamlagai said she was not given a copy of her agreement but the form she described is similar to an agreement another Hawthorne Academy student was asked to sign in late October after she reported being sexually assaulted.

The agreement that the student was asked to sign last month included a provision prohibiting “any comments or discussion with others regarding the situation or student,” among other things.

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

WBTV first reported last week on the case of the current Hawthorne Academy student who was suspended after administrators determined she had filed a false report, despite the fact that detectives with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department charged a juvenile with sexual battery as a result of the student’s report to police.

The station is not naming the current student, at her request, since she reported being the victim of a sex crime.

It was after that story when a friend of Chamlagai’s reached out to WBTV. That friend was one of the few people Chamlagai had told about the incident and the NDA in 2019 after it happened.

The friend put a WBTV reporter in touch with Chamlagai, who agreed to speak publicly for this story.

Weston, the Hawthorne Academy principal, did not respond to an email seeking an interview for this story.

Neither did a spokesman for CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston.

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

Weston has not responded to multiple emails and public records requests from WBTV over the past two weeks, as the station has begun investigating her handling of reported sexual assaults at the school.

Winston issued a statement last Wednesday in response to WBTV’s first story about the current student who was suspended for reporting sexual assault.

“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,” the statement said.

“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.”

One CMS board member took aim at the lack of information from Winston in a statement issued last week.

Board member Rhonda Cheek said she had asked multiple times to be briefed on the student who was suspended after reporting a sexual assault at Hawthorne Academy but had not gotten any information.

“I cannot comment on this matter because I have still not been briefed or provided any information about this Hawthorne situation,” Cheek said in an emailed statement.

“I will share that I am frustrated by this lack of information. I realize that there are sometimes legal reasons for limited info, but to date I have gotten no information.”

Board member Sean Strain had previously told WBTV he could not comment on the situation because he had not been briefed on the incident.

But other board members have stayed silent.

WBTV tried to talk on-camera with board chairwoman Elyse Dashew and board members Margaret Marshall and Jennifer De La Jara before a public board meeting last Tuesday but none of them would answer questions.

Chamlagai thinks leaders at the school and CMS are more worried about their reputation than about student safety.

“A part of me felt like it was done to protect the school’s reputation and that I wouldn’t speak up about it,” she said of the nondisclosure agreement.

And, she said, the decision to suspend the current student after her reported sexual assault sends a loud message to other students.

“Suspending her just says, you know, if you speak up, we will punish you,” Chamlagai said.

“You punish one, you shut everyone else’s mouth.”

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