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In 2015, two Myers Park High School students went into the woods at the edge of the school campus. The female student, who was a minor, said she’d been kidnapped and sexually assaulted, while the 18-year-old male student said she had voluntarily skipped class and had sex with him. The lawsuit filed in 2018 against CMS, the city of Charlotte and the individuals who handled the female student’s assault report has gone to trial.

Myers Park High sexual assault lawsuit goes to trial this week

myers park students.jpg
Sarah Delia
/
WFAE
Current and former Myers Park High students protested outside a school board meeting in July 2021.

On a November morning in 2015, two Myers Park High School students went into the woods at the edge of the school campus. They emerged with conflicting accounts: The female student, who was a minor, said she’d been kidnapped and sexually assaulted, while the 18-year-old male student said she had voluntarily skipped class and had sex with him.

This week, a lawsuit filed in 2018 against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the city of Charlotte and individuals who handled the female student’s assault report goes to trial. The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, alleges that school administrators and the police officer stationed at Myers Park High disregarded her account, even though she was texting friends and family seeking help as she was heading into the woods.

The suit says the reaction was driven by “endemic and discriminatory sex-based stereotypes and gender biases held by officials at MPHS … Such stereotypes and biases included the harmful belief that teenage girls are overly sensitive and dramatic, and thus likely to falsely accuse their male counterparts of sexual harassment and violence — a classic rape myth.”

Lawyers for CMS and the city have said administrators and the school resource officer acted appropriately given the information they had at the time.

The student and her family first filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. In 2017, the office ruled that CMS did not meet its Title IX obligations to address sexual assault and harassment. That refers to a federal civil rights law that prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of sex.


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While the lawsuit has been working its way through the legal system, complaints about how CMS handles sexual assault reports have continued:

  • In 2021, another former Myers Park High student who had sued CMS over its handling of her 2014 sexual assault report came forward to tell her story. Initially identified as Jill Roe, Nikki Wombwell had settled her case for $50,000. Wombwell was part of a group of current and former Myers Park High students who protested at the school and at school board meetings, saying the school continued to ignore reports of sexual abuse filed by female students.
  • Superintendent Earnest Winston reassigned longtime Myers Park High Principal Mark Bosco to a central office job in 2021, after the protests led to an investigation of Bosco’s role in the ongoing complaints.
  • In 2021, a female student at Hawthorne High told reporters that she was suspended after reporting sexual assault by a male classmate. Winston reassigned Hawthorne’s principal and assistant principal after investigating that situation.
  • Winston announced in the fall of 2021 that he would hire more Title IX enforcement staff, and created a Title IX task force to study systemic needs. That task force, made up of 11 students and five adults, held six closed-door meetings and filed a report with 63 suggestions for improvement. Winston released that report in December 2021.
  • The school board fired Winston in April, and documents released with his termination show his handling of the Title IX complaints played a role. His job review from the fall of 2021 shows comments from board members questioning how he handled enforcement and communication related to Title IX issues, and an attorney reported to the board that a member of Winston’s staff had interfered with other departments’ investigation into the Hawthorne High incident.
  • Last June, Vice News posted a documentary on “the sexual assault scandal” in CMS, which has been viewed more than 350,000 times. Another former Myers Park High student, Serena Evans, filed suit against CMS in connection with how the school handled her report of being sexually assaulted inside the school in 2016. And Olympic High students protested outside the school, saying their school was not doing enough to keep students safe from sexual assault.
  • Finally, a federal judge imposed penalties against both CMS and the city last summer, saying they had failed to produce records in the Jane Doe case in a timely manner.

In the months following Winston’s firing, CMS officials said little about ongoing efforts to follow up on the Title IX task force recommendations or otherwise improve the system. Crystal Hill, who was hired as chief of staff just before Winston left CMS, was assigned oversight of the Title IX office. Last month, after Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh left about halfway through his 14-month contract, Hill was appointed interim superintendent.
At a Friday news conference, Hill responded to questions by saying CMS has expanded its Title IX office from two employees to 11. She said the district has trained or retrained Title IX contacts at all schools, clarified how incidents should be reported and started providing an “outcome letter” to all parties involved in a sexual assault report to make sure they know what CMS decided. She said that work is far from done.

“There were a lot of recommendations. It’s kind of like building a house, right? If you’re going to build a house, there’s a lot of work that has to go into it before you actually see that house erected,” she said. “So what I would describe is a lot of the work we’ve done with Title IX is the pre-work. And you will begin to see the house erected in terms of how we are addressing Title IX.”

Hill declined to discuss the upcoming trial, saying the district doesn’t talk about active litigation. Laura Dunn, one of the lawyers for Jane Doe, says she expects the trial to last at least through the end of this week.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.
Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.