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CMS board members won’t answer questions about student suspended after reporting sexual assault

WBTV Investigates: Hawthorne Academy student suspended after reporting sexual assault, despite police charges
CMS board members won’t answer questions about student suspended after reporting sexual assault
CMS board members won’t answer questions about student suspended after reporting sexual assault(WBTV)
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 5:25 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board refused to answer questions on Tuesday about a student who was suspended after reporting being sexually assaulted.

A sophomore student at Hawthorne Academy High School reported being sexually assaulted by a classmate in a school bathroom. She made the report in late August, after sitting through a Title IX class at the start of the school year.

The case was referred to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, who investigated. A CMPD spokesman confirmed that a juvenile was charged with sexual battery as a result of the report.

But school administrators determined, independently of the police investigation, that the report was unfounded.

“I really just thought I had faith in CMS, that they were going to do right by my daughter,” the girl’s mother told WBTV. “So when I got that phone call I was hurt.”

As a result, they suspended the female student who reported being sexually assaulted, made her sign a no-contact order, which she says has prevented her from participating in some school activities, and she is being made to attend a CMS class called Sexual Harassment is Preventable.

“They are making her feel like she is being punished for coming forward,” the mother said.

Both the female student and her mother spoke with WBTV on the condition we take steps to conceal their identity since the student reported being the victim of a sex crime.

WBTV first emailed the Hawthorne Academy Principal and spokesmen for Superintendent Earnest Winston and the CMS school board last Tuesday, October 26.

The Hawthorne Academy Principal, Diann Weston, did not respond to multiple emails.

A spokesman for Winston, Patrick Smith, would not agree to schedule an interview with Winston and did not respond to questions about how a CMS student could be suspended for reporting a sexual assault. But did send a statement.

“District leaders review assertions of Title IX reporting problems and will take appropriate action in the event any review reveals action is necessary,” Smith said in an email statement.

A spokesman for the school board, Charles Jeter, did not respond to an email seeking an interview for the story.

After WBTV’s story aired on Monday night, a reporter emailed each board member individually with a link to the story asking for comment. Only one board member, Sean Strain, responded.

Strain said he could not comment on the story since he had not been briefed on the situation, despite the fact that the email to which he was responded included a link to the full story, with text and video.

Every other board member ignored WBTV’s email.

So WBTV Chief Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner showed up to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center ahead of a public meeting of the school board on Tuesday.

Specifically, WBTV asked questions of board chair Elyse Dashew and board members Margaret Marshall and Jennifer De La Jara. Each of the three women previously spoke out in support of students reporting sexual violence on campus and said they wanted the district to do more related to Title IX.

When board member Margaret Marshall walked into the empty meeting room where the public meeting was scheduled to begin in less than five minutes, she turned around and walked out, saying she forgot she had another meeting to get to.

When Ochsner caught up with Marshall, she wouldn’t answer his questions.

“I don’t have any information about it,” Marshall said, despite having received an email the night before with a link to the story.

Board chairwoman Elyse Dashew also refused to comment, first saying she didn’t comment on student matters and, later, asking a security officer to escort her out of the public meeting room and through the hallway in an effort to avoid facing further questions.

“How does that square with what you said just a few months ago about wanting students to report and feel safe?” Ochsner asked Dashew of her refusal to comment on the student who was suspended after reporting being sexually assaulted.

“Thank you,” Dashew responded. “You are not the person that I would convey that message to, so thank you very much.

Then, WBTV got no response from board member Jennifer De La Jarra.

When a reporter tried to ask De La Jara questions about whether she thought it was appropriate for the Hawthorne Academy student to be suspended after reporting being sexually assaulted, she said she needed to eat lunch.

“I’m going to have my lunch,” she said, as a reporter asked questions.

Eventually, De La Jara left the room where salads had been laid out for school board members, walked through a hallway and ducked into a bathroom to avoid further questions.

Neither the Hawthorne Academy student who reported being sexually assaulted or her mother had heard from school administrators or CMS leadership regarding her suspension as of Tuesday afternoon.

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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