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CMS superintendent: Sexual harassment claims will no longer be handled by principals

Sexual assaults have been reported on four CMS campuses, including Olympic High School and Hawthorne Academy.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston says the district will add more staff to its Title IX office following allegations of sexual misconduct on several CMS campuses.

"We will be beefing up, increasing support in our Title IX office to better support our students here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools," Winston said.

The move comes after CMS announced the creation of a Title IX task force back in August after Myers Park students said administrators didn't properly handle reports of sexual assault and harassment appropriately.

"The responsibility of the personnel that we will be adding to our Title IX team,' Winston said. "Their responsibility, their sole responsibility will be to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct." 

Sexual assaults have been reported on four CMS campuses, including Olympic High School and Hawthorne Academy.

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Winston did not say how much new support staff will be added to the office. He said recommendations from the student-led Title IX task force will be announced soon. 

"I expect by the end of this month to receive a report with their recommendations outlining how we can better improve our processes to provide better support to our students," Winston said.

Laura Dunn, a prominent attorney who focuses on Title IX and sexual assault cases, asked the U.S. Department of Education to open an investigation into CMS for its handling of reported assaults. Dunn represents several former Myers Park High School students who reported being raped or sexually assaulted at school. 

She released a statement Friday which said in part, "I have not heard any commitment from CMS to end the 'boys will be boys' attitude that has resulted in rampant sexual misconduct and officials silencing survivors through victim-blaming and retaliation." 

Winston says he is listening to students who feel silenced.

“My message to our students, my message to our families is that we hear you. I hear you," Winston said. "We are committed to the wellbeing and safety of all of our students.”

A protest happened Saturday at noon at Park Road Park for current and former CMS students who survived sexual abuse and harassment.

One organizer of Amplify Survivors said the school didn’t listen when she reported her experience. 

PREVIOUSLY: Attorney asks Department of Education to open investigation into CMS Title IX policies after recent reports of sexual assaults

“We did make a police report and we did make a report with the school, but nothing was done with the school," said Serena Evans, founder of Amplify Survivors. "Title IX was not mentioned to me or my mom. I didn’t know about title IX until I actually got to college which was the fall of 2020." 

The protest called for survivors to be a part of the conversation and keep students more informed.

“Give students resources that they need, "Evans said." To talk about their Title IX rights, to talk about what consent is."

There is also a petition asking for an external investigation into CMS. It's gained more than 14,000 signatures.

"Their inaction is what led to things like Hawthorne and Olympic and West Charlotte," said Nikki Wombwell, a former student at Myer's Park High School. 

"I hope that they plan to hire a decent amount of people to handle that properly," Wombwell said in response to the district not being able to tell the community how many additional staff would be hired in the Title IX office. 

Wombwell said she and others are still expected more action instead of just all the talk by the district. 

"I think there has to be better education for students, I think there has to be no retaliation policies for people who protest, and for students who report," she said. 

They said they would continue raising their voices until the district takes proper action. 

"It's not that we want to keep protesting, it's that we aren't being listened to and we're not going to go away," Wombwell said. 

Winston refused to talk in generalities or specifics about CMS being more transparent with data on reported sexual assaults.

"I’ve shared there are rules and regulations around sharing information involving student cases and I will not do anything to compromise or jeopardize a student matter by sharing specific details around specific cases," Winston said. 

He also dodged a question about accusations that CMS is requiring some students to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements about their sexual assault allegations.

"We do believe by adding the additional staff to our Title IX office that that will create the level of consistency across the district," he said. "I can not speak to specific cases."

Winston was not asked to speak on specific cases. 

Sexual assaults have been reported on multiple CMS campuses, including Olympic High School and Hawthorne Academy.

Hawthorne Academy's principal and assistant principal were suspended with pay on Nov. 9. The reason for their suspensions was not made public and it was not announced how long the suspensions would last. 

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