Four federal probes ongoing in second-largest public school district

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(The Center Square) – North Carolina’s second-largest school district faces at least four investigations, each related to Title IX, by the U.S. Department of Education over sexual harassment or assaults in schools.

The latest cases opened against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools follows years of complaints from parents saying students suffered sexual harassment and assaults while at school, and on district buses.

A list of open investigations on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights website shows a total of four pending cases, one filed on Nov. 7, and three others on July 6, 25 and 27.

The November and early July cases are cited as “sexual harassment,” while the two in late July are for “retaliation” and “procedural requirements” related to reporting incidents, with no other details available.

Federal investigators do not comment on the pending cases. Susan Vernon-Devlin, spokeswoman for the 140,000 student district, wrote in an email to The Center Square, “We cannot comment on ongoing investigations.” She did not respond to a request to discuss what the district is doing to prevent future incidents. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the second-largest district in North Carolina and 18th largest in the country.

The Office of Civil Rights investigates reported violations of federal Title IX laws aimed at ensuring students have equal access to educational opportunities. The laws require schools to take specific steps when students report sexual harassment or assaults, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has faced scrutiny by media outlets contacted by parents frustrated with how the district handles reported rapes and other sexual incidents among students.

In one case of a reported rape outside of Meyrs Park High School in 2015, a federal jury in January found a 17-year-old junior was sexually assaulted, but school officials did not handle the report with “deliberate indifference” – a legal threshold for harassment or violation of rights.

In more recent years, local television news reports have detailed allegations from numerous parents about sexual assaults at Meyrs Park, as well as reports of assaults and questionable responses from school officials at Turning Point Academy, Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, and for students waiting for and riding district buses.

The district’s prior superintendent Earnest Winston was fired in 2022 in part for the district’s handling of Title IX cases, which involved district staff intervening in investigations, according to district records. Winston left the district in April 2022 with a $24,000 per month severance for the next two years, as required by his contract.

Crystal Hill, who served as chief of staff for the district, took over as interim superintendent in January, and was named permanent superintendent in May.

In January, Hill held a press conference ahead of the Meyrs Park rape trial to outline efforts to address issues with Title IX reporting, which she said included expanding Title IX staff from two members to 11, and ensuring all of them received training.

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