N.C. Governor calls for accountability after school bus sex assaults

WBTV Investigates: Cooper responded to questions about school safety during Charlotte visit
WBTV Investigates: Cooper responded to questions about school safety during Charlotte visit
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 6:02 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called for accountability from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in response to questions about the string of reported sex assaults that have been mishandled by school administrators.

Cooper visited a Charlotte school on Wednesday as part of a campaign to highlight the importance of public education.

During his visit, WBTV’s Chief Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner asked Cooper to respond to the three mothers who have called him since February after their daughters were reportedly sexually assaulted on a school bus.

In each case, school administrators failed to call police. In two of the three cases, administrators did not complete the proper paperwork until after WBTV called the school district.

In the most recent case—where three students at Turning Point Academy reported seeing a fellow student get sexually assaulted on a school bus—administrators didn’t even call the girl’s mother for ten days.

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

Latonja Whitaker, the mother of the girl involved in the most recent case, said she fears for children’s safety inside CMS schools.

“I don’t think any child is safe in Charlotte Mecklenburg schools, as long as they have the administrators that they have in office now,” Whitaker said.

Faced with questions about the school district’s ongoing inability to properly handle reported sexual assaults, Cooper said student safety should be a top priority.

“Teachers, parents and students deserve safe schools and we have to demand that we have safe schools,” Cooper said.

“It’s important for our schools to be accountable to parents and students,” he continued. “I don’t know what’s happened with these situations but, clearly, they need to be accountable to that. We need to take every step we can to make sure our schools are safe.”

WBTV has asked each member of the CMS board to answer questions about why mothers are having to call WBTV for help with their daughters’ reported sexual assault cases after getting nowhere with school officials.

Board chair Elyse Dashew has not responded to multiple emails seeking comment and has participated in recent board meetings remotely.

Related: CMS board chair won’t answer questions about recent sex assault reports

Seven other board members—Summer Nunn, Melissa Easley, Lisa Cline, Dee Rankin, Thelma Byers-Bailey, Lenora Shipp and Jennifer De La Jara—have not answered emailed questions and refused to answer questions in-person before a recent board meeting.

Board vice chair Stephanie Sneed is the only board member to offer any explanation to parents.

“I think we have a responsibility to be responsible to parents,” Sneed said. “And I think that we will be, in the capacity that we can.”

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

As a press conference last week, Superintendent Dr. Crystal Hill acknowledged the district had more work to do to improve handling of reported sexual violence on campus.

“We’ve improved our processes but our processes are not perfect and it’s never enough, which it why it continues to be number one and top of mind,” Hill said.