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Education

Student member of the Title IX task force hopes for change in CMS policies

Aidan Finnell.jpg
Courtesy of Aidan Finnell
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Myers Park High student Aidan Finnell served on the Title IX task force. Finnell is seen here at a recent protest advocating for sexual assault survivor rights.

On Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston announced he would be adding more staff to the district's Title IX office to help support investigations into reported sexual misconduct. He told reporters that investigations will come from the CMS central office, not individual schools, which will provide more consistency. This announcement comes after the district has been highly criticized for its handling of sexual assault allegations.

"We have not defined the exact number of positions," Winston said. "That work is ongoing. But I will tell you that we have a commitment to fund these additional positions through the rest of this school year, and my expectation would be that these positions would be prioritized in our upcoming budget request that we make to Mecklenburg County."

Earlier this year, Winston announced a student-led Title IX task force to come up with recommendations on how the district's policies could be improved. The group met for the last time this week, and Winston is in the process of reviewing the recommendations and plans to make them public. These task force meetings were closed to the public.

WFAE's Sarah Delia spoke with one student member of the task force who wanted to shed some light on the work they did.

Sarah Delia: Sixteen-year-old Aidan Finnell is a junior at Myers Park High School, a school that has been the focus of lawsuits and allegations of mishandling reported sexual assaults. Through organized protests, Finnell has spoken out on the district's process of investigating reports of sexual assault. She's passionate about educating others about their Title IX rights, which is why she wanted to be a part of this task force, a group that consisted of 11 students, five adult subject-matter experts and two adult co-facilitators.

Aidan Finnell: A lot of the meetings went really well when it comes to student input, and the conversations and recommendations that were student driven, and I think all the adults who participated tended to do a very good job. They were all experts in their field. There were a few times, though, that someone made a few odd comments about media that were just kind of off-putting to me and other people.

Delia: Yeah, what were some of those comments?

Finnell: Someone would just constantly say that, 'don't believe everything you read, don't believe the news' and stuff like that; or like 10% of the news is true. It would always kind of be brought up when there would be a slight discussion of what had been going on with Myers Park and Olympic (High School) and Hawthorne (Academy High). For me, it was kind of disheartening to hear because some of the people I've talked to, a lot of the people who have come out with their stories and I've read statements for those who want to stay anonymous at protests and after seeing people's pain, it feels very insensitive to just kind of say that, when news outlets have really been the only ones advocating for these stories.

So, I don't think this is a fair thing to say or a well-informed or just respectable thing to say in a task force centered on believing survivors and survivor rights. I just felt like it was kind of off-putting.

Delia: Were there points where you wanted to be able to talk more openly about the work that the task force was doing?

Finnell: Absolutely. There were moments where things would come out or people would say things, and I was just like, 'Oh, I wish I could really say something about this' or moments where I just, I don't know. I felt like it would have been really necessary for students and the community to hear or even just have access to what was being said.

To a certain extent, I agree with why they want to keep it private for student safety, since a majority of the task force consisted of minors. But the topics being discussed, since I think all of it could be readily found on the CMS website, all of their policies for Title IX I feel like they could have been more clear with what was being discussed and what people feel about that, as well as letting that be covered and letting people know.

And also, (I) just think it was weird that they chose to also describe the reason they wanted to keep it private because they didn't want students influenced by outside groups. I feel like they probably should have just put an emphasis on student safety.

Delia: Where do you think the conversation goes from here now that the task force is done making its recommendations to Superintendent Winston?

Finnell: I think the conversation still needs to stay on survivor rights within CMS because while the task force set out to create recommendations for how things should be changed, there's so much you can do about that. It doesn't really change how people view certain things within. So it doesn't necessarily change policy.

I think the main thing is that while this task force was going on, two to three other incidents came out and kind of exploded, and I think it's important to emphasize that the creation of this task force doesn't mean an end to anything and that the task force could be kind of fruitless if the things that were recommended aren't necessarily implemented or done in the correct way.

Delia: Were there other frustrations that you had with the task force? Were there things that you wished that could have gone differently with how it operated?

Finnell: Not with the task force. I think everything that could have been discussed or done with the task force was done well content-wise, and the recommendation was my issue sort of lies with I feel like so much of it could just, I don't know, disappear in this report. To just be out there, and we'll never see anything come of it. Because I think it's so hard to push CMS to mandate or enforce something if it means they're going to get considerable backlash.

And it's not something that's mandated by federal law or something. They get so much backlash at their board meetings alone from people who are angry about critical race theory, and that's a mess of its own. So I could only imagine parents getting mad at CMS for enforcing lessons about consent or sexual harassment and sexual violence, which kids should learn. Kids should learn their rights and stuff like that. And I just, I don't know. I just feel like CMS won't enforce something if they feel like it's going to give them some sort of backlash or if it's already something they regard as a hush-hush topic — which is the culture that sexual violence gets treated with in a lot of schools when it really shouldn't be.

Delia: What do you think is the biggest thing you learned being on the task force, or the most important thing?

Finnell: I just kind of learned more about CMS policy. I was reading the Code of Conduct on some days, and I was like, "I've never read this before in my life." The most important thing that I learned is that timeline is very much sidebared in CMS and that it's very much being held back, I think. And it could go way further in terms of enforcement — whether it be through teacher training, student training, revisiting the topic.

I just think there's a lot of growth that could be done when it comes to making sure students know what's going on.

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