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Sources: Top CMS staffer interfered in investigation into Hawthorne Academy HS sexual assault claims

We're learning new information about a staff member who reportedly blocked an investigation into the handling of a reported sexual assault at Hawthorne Academy
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 11:50 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - LaTarzja Henry, a top staffer at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, interfered in the investigation into the handling of reported sexual assaults at Hawthorne Academy High School, sources familiar with the matter tell WBTV.

The new information came to light following a report released by the CMS board last week summarizing an investigation into then-superintendent Earnest Winston. Winston was fired by the board last week

Specifically, the report highlighted three areas where Winston and his staff mishandled situations.

According to the document, a CMS staff member “interfered with the Title IX Coordinator’s initial investigation and a subsequent Employee Relations Departments investigation” at Hawthorne Academy.

The investigations at Hawthorne Academy came after WBTV spoke with two students who detailed what happened after they reported being sexually assaulted at the school.

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

One student, who is a current sophomore at the school, was suspended after she reported being sexually assaulted by a male classmate in the bathroom. Administrators claimed the student filed a false report. Police filed charges against the male student in that case.

A second woman, Rashika Chamlagai, reported a male classmate who exposed himself on campus in 2019. Chamlagai said she was forced by school administrators to sign a non disclosure agreement that she felt prevented her from reporting the incident to police.

According to the report summarizing the findings of an investigation into Winston that was released by the board last week, an unnamed staff member took steps to stop an investigation into Chamlagai’s claims.

“Specifically, this staff member is alleged to have directed the Title IX Coordinator to stop her investigation because there was no need for her to investigate the issue raised in the second media story,” the report said.

Document: Read the report and other materials released by the school board

Multiple sources familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition they not be named to discuss internal personnel matters, told WBTV the unnamed staffer is Henry, who served as Winston’s chief of staff until earlier this year.

The report detailed Henry’s efforts to obstruct a second investigation at Hawthorne.

“Further, this staff member is alleged to have informed another employee at the school the Employee Relations Department planned to investigate the allegations the school mishandled the student sexual harassment claims,” the report said.

“This was prior to the Employee Relations Department informing employees of its investigation; and therefore, the employees would have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with others and plan for the Employee Relation’s investigation.”

The school’s principal, Diann Weston, and assistant principal, Nina Adams, were both reassigned from their roles at Hawthorne Academy to jobs at the central office. A WBTV investigation found they continued making their school administrator salaries, even though their new jobs were in pay bands with lower salaries.

The report said there was no evidence that Winston was aware of the interference.

Henry did not respond to an email from WBTV seeking comment for this story.

WBTV showed the report’s findings to Chamlagai.

“It just makes me really frustrated and angry to know that this is how they chose to handle the situation even after you know getting so much media attention,” she said after reading the findings.

Chamlagai said she is glad she spoke out but still feels CMS has more work to do to improve its handling of reported rapes and sexual assaults, even after Winston’s firing.

“Girls have been trying to do this for such a long time, but a part of me still feels frustrated knowing that even after he got fired, I know they’re not going to take a better step in protecting their students,” she said.

“You know there’s not going to be a proper protocol.”

Previous: Top CMS official leaving job as pressure mounts on superintendent

A spokeswoman for CMS did not acknowledge an email requesting comment for this story.

Henry was removed from her job as chief of staff after board members demanded her removal as one of five expectations given to Winston by board leaders in late December. Despite being removed as chief of staff, Henry continues to work within CMS.

Chamlagai said she wants to see less talk and more action from the school board, which still has not taken any action on a long list of recommendations submitted late last year on how to improve the district’s handling of reported rapes and sexual assaults.

“As of right now, my clear message to the school board is instead of saying that we’re doing it, actually do something, you know we’re hearing words,” she said. “We don’t see actions.”

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