No action from CMS months after report, recommendations on addressing sexual violence
WBTV Investigates: School leaders say they’re in planning phase; can’t provide timeline
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders say they are still in the planning phase on how to implement dozens of recommendations on how the district can better address sexual violence reported on its campuses.
The recommendations came from the Title IX Task Force, a group formed last August by Superintendent Earnest Winston in the wake of scrutiny prompted by a WBTV investigation into a half-dozen former students at Myers Park High School who reported being raped or sexually assaulted with little result.
In November, WBTV uncovered a student at Hawthorne Academy High School who was suspended after she reported being sexually assaulted. A second woman, who graduated from Hawthorne Academy in 2020, told WBTV she was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement after she reported being sexually assaulted that she felt prevented her from reporting the assault to police.
The task force was made up of 11 students from around the district, select CMS staff members and members of the community who work at organizations that are involved in preventing and responding to sexual violence.
Nearly all of the task force’s work was conducted in secret. But its final report was prepared in November 2021 and CMS officials released it to the public in December.
The report contains a total of 63 recommendations—many from the students and some from the adult task force members—on how the district can improve its handling of reported sexual violence.
But CMS hasn’t said or done anything related to the report and recommendations since making them public in December.
“It makes me feel kind of upset because we spent a really long time working on it,” Aidan Finnell, a junior at Myers Park High School who was on the task force, told WBTV.
“I felt really good on the fact that the task force had gone through and done everything and that the group had, like, cohesively worked together to create a list of recommendations and had gone through all of CMS’s like Title IX, training and curriculum.”
Finnell said she and her fellow student task force members have been disappointed by the lack of action from Winston and other school leaders since the report was finalized.
“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “It’s also disheartening because there are people who have been waiting for years and they’ve been waiting and thinking that with everything going on that maybe CMS would finally do something and that this task force was kind of a step towards it.”
WBTV requested an interview on Monday afternoon with anyone at CMS who could answer questions about what was being done to act on the task force’s recommendations.
CMS spokesman Patrick Smith first acknowledged the request on Wednesday but said he had been too busy to respond.
Smith sent a statement late Thursday afternoon, hours before this story was first set to run, co-signed by Winston and board chairwoman Elyse Dashew.
“While we understand some in the community would like the pace of change to quicken, and we share their sense of urgency, we must act thoughtfully and make sure changes we enact are lasting and impactful,” the joint statement said. “Also, we must view all actions through the lens of compliance with federal laws and regulations. We cannot act hastily or outside the parameters that govern Title IX compliance.”
Among the things the statement pointed to as action in response to the task force’s recommendations was an announcement from Winston late last year that CMS would hire additional staff to assist with Title IX investigations. That announcement was made before the task force’s report was finalized and submitted, according to information Winston told reporters at his press conference announcing the plan to hire additional staff.
The statement also said staff are beginning to plan to overhaul the district’s Title IX training. But did not provide a timeline for that effort nor an expected completion date.
“We expect to begin implementation of some recommendations before the end of this school year. Many others will be next school year, with the goal of implementing a comprehensive program that has a positive impact for our students, staff and families for years to come,” the statement said.
Finnell, the student member of the task force, said action can’t come soon enough.
“It sends a message that we don’t care that much or let’s kind of push this conversation aside till we get to it again at the beginning of the year next year,” she said.
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