Lawyer wants new federal investigation into CMS’ handling of reported sex assaults

CHARLOTTE — Calls for change regarding Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ handling of sexual assault reports continue to grow.

The attorney representing the family of a Hawthorne Academy student who was suspended after reporting her own sexual assault sent an email to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), asking them to investigate the mishandling of Title IX issues in the district.

In the email, attorney Laura Dunn writes that “CMS (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) … has been previously investigated by OCR and repeatedly found out of compliance with Title IX.” Dunn also writes that despite those reviews, current CMS Title IX policies and procedures “fails to fully comply with current Title IX regulation and recent OCR guidance.”

She continues that “students have been paying the price for this noncompliance, which has been manifesting for almost a decade now in widespread mishandling of sexual assault complaints and even recent retaliations against students who are speaking out and pushing back.”

She calls for OCR to “consider opening another compliance review that contemplates sanctions against CMS.” Dunn notes that she also copied the White House’s Gender Policy Council on the email.

Channel 9 reached out to a CMS spokesperson for a response and requested an interview with someone from the school system, but as of this report, has not received a response.

UNC Chapel Hill professor Melinda Manning spent a decade as the former assistant dean of students, who had direct contact with students filing sexual assault reports. Now, she’s a Title IX advocate, and told reporter Susanna Black that the email is the first step toward a federal investigation that might take years, but may bring sweeping changes.

“What the attorneys and the families are saying is this is our only option if we want to make change,” Manning said. “They can mandate the system implement certain policies and change certain policies and they can also do a monitoring period. They actually monitor the system for a while to say, ‘are you actually implementing what we’re telling you to do?,’ and that’s what I think is most meaningful in these cases.”

Manning said stronger Title IX training programs are also something that can be beneficial for any school system.

“What’s happening is a lot of schools are implementing training, but the training isn’t very good,” Manning explained. “A lot of times it’s like an online module, and we know how people do online modules -- very often they just kind of click through and they aren’t really absorbing the material.”

She says it’s critical to teach students and staff alike how to identify sexual harassment and assault, how to support a student who is reporting it, as well as effective risk reduction techniques. She says the younger a student can be introduced to the ideas, the better.

“This training can start in kindergarten,” Manning said. “High school is too late as a lot of those attitudes have already been formed, so you need to start it really young. They talk about safe touch, boundaries, and in later grades, they talk about consent; and it’s ongoing, it’s not a one-time thing.”

Manning said another important thing a school system can do is to change its mindset around what sexual harassment and assault are.

“What’s been happening to these students has been a barrier to them getting an effective education, and I think once you make that mental shift, it makes thinking about the problem and working the problem easier,” Manning explained. “I hope that’s what officials with Charlotte-Mecklenburg will be able to do.”

(WATCH BELOW: ‘CMS failed us’: High School student reports sex assault, gets suspended)

Therapists, social workers push to see more done to address sexual assaults at Hawthorne Academy

Dozens of therapists and social workers have a clear message to leaders at Hawthorne Academy in Charlotte, saying the policies in place surrounding sex assaults don’t protect students.

A letter sent to the school comes after a student at the school was disciplined for reporting a sexual assault.

The counselors and therapist who wrote it say the school system needs to do more to protect victims like her.

“These kids are scared. The ones that are currently experiencing sexual assaults, they’re not going to come forward,” said Kristen McClure, who is a therapist.

>> In the video below, Channel 9′s Mark Becker shows the letter that therapists and social workers sent to the school detailing the changes they want to see.