Charlotte school system back under investigation for handling of sex assault cases

WBTV Investigates: Feds open new investigation after two years of scrutiny.
WBTV Investigates: Feds open new investigation after two years of scrutiny.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 5:20 PM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 6:47 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating Charlotte-Mecklenburg School’s handling of sexual harassment cases.

According to a post on the agency’s website, the investigation was opened in November 2022.

The Office of Civil Rights investigates reported violations of a federal law known as Title IX, which requires all students to have equal access to educational opportunities. The law is more commonly associated with sports but also requires schools to take certain steps when students report being the subject of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

A spokeswoman for the school district sent an emailed statement Thursday afternoon, after this story was first published.

“The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) website lists a Title IX-Sexual Harassment investigation into Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that was opened in November 2022,” spokeswoman Susan Vernon-Devlin said.

“This investigation is not tied to any Title IX allegations made in 2023. It is also not tied to any allegations associated with Myers Park. We are unable to comment any further on the investigation that was listed on the OCR website as we cannot speak about individual student matters.”

A spokesman for the Office of Civil Rights said the agency could not comment beyond the information posted on its website.

CMS has been under scrutiny for its handling of reported rapes and sexual assaults for years.

WBTV first investigated the district’s handling of a reported rape at Myers Park High School in November 2015.

A federal jury ruled earlier this year that the student was sexually assaulted but the school did not deliberately mishandle its response to her report.

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

The Office of Civil Rights previously found CMS violated Title IX after an investigation in 2017.

WBTV has been continuously investigating the school district’s handling of reported sexual violence since spring 2021 after five more Myers Park High School students came forward to detail the lack of action by school administrators and police in the wake of their reports.

In October 2021, the mother of a student at Hawthorne Academy High School called WBTV after her daughter was suspended for reporting being sexually assaulted by a male classmate. School administrators accused her of filing a false report; even though police pressed charges in that case.

A second Hawthorne Academy student came forward to detail her experience of being forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement after reporting a sexual assault. That student felt she could not report to the police.

The district formed a task force of students and adult community members to evaluate the district’s handling of Title IX issues in August 2021. The task force’s work was completed later that year but, to date, the district has never detailed efforts to implement the dozens of recommendations contained in the final report.

Then-superintendent Earnest Winston was fired in April 2022. Records released at the time of his firing show his termination was tied, in part, to his handling of Title IX issues.

In January 2023, current interim superintendent Dr. Crystal Hill detailed efforts the district had undertaken to improve its handling of reported sexual violence on campus. Hill was responsible for implementing those changes when she worked as chief of staff prior to taking the interim superintendent job.

Hill touted additional training for school administrators and the expansion of district-level Title IX staff.

“Hopefully our students aren’t looking to news to find out how to report Title IX,” Hill said in January. “That work happens here in the school building.”

But that is exactly what has happened during Hill’s time as interim superintendent.

Watch: CMS chief abruptly ends interview about 5-year-old’s reported assault

Two worried mothers called WBTV in February after their five-year-old daughters reported being sexually assaulted by male classmates in two separate incidents.

In the first case, the kindergarten student was sat next to the older boy she reported sexually assaulting her when she returned to the school bus, despite assurances by school administrators that wouldn’t happen.

In the second case, school administrators did not fill out the proper Title IX reports nor call police after a kindergarten student reported an older male student looking up her skirt.

Now, the mother of a 13-year-old student at Turning Point Academy has called WBTV for help after her daughter was reportedly assaulted on the school bus.

School administrators did not call police and did not complete the Title IX paperwork. That changed after WBTV started investigating.

“I don’t think any child is safe in Charlotte Mecklenburg schools,” Latonja Whitaker said during an interview about how administrators handled her daughter’s case.

“As long as they have the administrators that they have in office now, I don’t think any student is.”

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