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CMS superintendent: ‘No students have been suspended for reporting sexual assault.’ Documents show otherwise.

WBTV Investigates: Superintendent Winston under fire by lawmakers, school board
Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 5:44 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston told a pair of N.C. senators that no CMS student has been suspended for reporting sexual assault in a letter sent Tuesday.

The letter, from Winston to state senators Danny Britt (R-Robeson) and Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), was in response to a list of questions the lawmakers sent to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools earlier this month in the wake of a WBTV investigation that uncovered a female student at Hawthorne Academy High School who had been suspended after reporting a sexual assault.

In their letter to CMS, Britt and Sawyer asked “over the past five years, how many alleged victims of sexual assault have CMS suspended after those students reported the sexual assaults?”

Winston wrote in response, “no students have been suspended for reporting sexual assaults.”

His answer came despite the Hawthorne Academy Student.

Specifically, the student’s mother received a letter from school administrators regarding her daughter’s report that a male classmate had sexually assaulted her in a gym bathroom that said the following:

“Having reviewed all available evidence, including written reports, voluntary written statements, and evidence provided by both parties and any available witnesses; and using the required preponderance of the evidence” (sic) standard Hawthorne Academy High has concluded that the evidence shows no violation of the CMS Sexual Harassment Policy - Rule 27. There is evidence of a violation of Rule 6 B: Misrepresentation : False Information UB: Falsification of Information.”

“As a result of the investigation, the following actions have been implemented to remedy the effects of creating a hostile environment: 1 Day of OSS, No Contact/Retaliation Agreements.”

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

The Hawthorne Academy High School student was later also made to sign up for a class entitled Sexual Harassment is Preventable.

The senators also asked CMS for a copy of the curriculum for that class. In his letter responding to that request, Winston linked to a CMS policy handbook but did not provide any specific material related to the class.

CMS Board Chair questions Winston over Title IX announcement

Winston is also under fire from CMS Board Chairwoman Elyse Dashew, who sent an email Sunday night questioning the superintendent’s announcement last Friday that the district would hire additional staff and move to centralize the investigation of reported sexual violence at school campuses.

Winston first made the announcement at a hastily-called press conference early Friday morning. That was followed up with an email announcement to CMS staff.

“CMS will increase staffing in our Title IX office to include personnel whose sole responsibility is to investigate these allegations,” the email said.

“This means that sexual misconduct allegations will be handled by district-level investigators.”

Related: CMS announces change to sexual violence investigations

Dashew raised several questions about the announcement in her email to Winston on Sunday.

“It is my understanding from discussions with André that the Title IX Regulations, the OCR Resolution Agreement (attached), and CMS Title IX Grievance Procedures (also attached), all contemplate that school-level administrators and staff are involved in investigating and resolving Title IX complaints,” Dashew said.

“Over the weekend I heard from school-level administrators who seem to be under the impression that they will no longer be responsible for Title IX investigations.”

In addition, Dashew questioned whether the number of new staff Winston planned to hire - eight - would be adequate to investigate reported sexual violence at each of the district’s campuses.

“It sounds like a great idea to hire additional Title IX staff to support administrators but, as stated above, it will be problematic to take investigations out of the hands of principals and other school-based staff,” she said.

Dashew called on Winston to correct and clarify his announcement.

“We cannot risk confusion in this matter; we must remain compliant with the attached documents; and this needs to be clarified/corrected,” she said.

“Please make any necessary clarification to school-level administrators as to whether or not the announcement changes their Title IX duties, and please clarify to the media as well. To avoid further Title IX confusion, which the district can ill afford, please vet these clarification messages with Board leadership prior to release.”

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

Winston responded to Dashew’s email Monday night saying the point of Friday’s announcement was to improve the consistency of how sexual assaults are handled in the district.

Winston said he planned to hire outside auditors to evaluate the district’s current process of handling sexual assaults and said the additional staff was intended to support school-level administrators in conducting the investigations.

“The current practice — which will remain — is the intake process begins at the school level and as cases move through the resolution continuum, schools and Title IX office staff work together to resolve cases,” Winston said. “The additional Title IX staff would be focused on investigating allegations for sexual assaults at the secondary level.”

Winston said he had also formed a “cross-functional working group” to provide additional guidance to middle and high school leaders regarding Title IX.

New court order in Myers Park High School lawsuit

Also on Tuesday, a federal judge granted a request from lawyers for a former Myers Park High School student for more time to gather evidence showing how the school and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police handled the former student’s reported rape.

Lawyers asked for the additional time to gather evidence in August after a WBTV investigation uncovered new information about additional students who reported being raped in the woods adjacent to the school.

The lawyers argued that CMS and the CMPD officer assigned to the school, Bradley Leak, withheld information about other reported rapes in the woods and, as a result, they needed additional time to gather new information.

That request for more time to gather evidence was granted by a federal magistrate judge in an order entered Tuesday.

Read more of WBTV’s investigation into CMS’s handling of reported rapes & sexual assaults

If you have a tip or complaint that you want WBTV to investigate, email our team at investigates@wbtv.com.

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