Friday, October 8 2021

Days after a walkout led by students from the Olympic high school to protest sexual violence, questions remain about the school’s response and the case of an athlete who was allowed to play football after being charged.

Since Friday’s protest, The Charlotte Observer has learned that a 16-year-old football player, whose name has not been released by the district or police, was charged before school started with a reported sexual offense. off campus. Three district officials have confirmed these details and the athletic director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has said the district will no longer allow athletes under criminal investigation to play sports.

In addition, two district officials confirmed to the Observer this week that the Olympian took the pitch wearing a court-ordered electronic monitoring device, or ankle bracelet – an aspect of the case that is particularly irritating. some students. The two CMS officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the school is looking into what happened and that they are not allowed to discuss specific students publicly.

State high school athletic rules allow student-athletes under criminal investigation to continue playing and only require exclusion if the student-athlete is convicted. CMS policy is similar, but that can change.

The protest last Friday – when hundreds of students walked out of class in the morning and demonstrated for hours outside the school and on the shoulder of Sandy Porter Road – focused on sexual assault cases, including one involving the football player and a more recent one which police say occurred at school.

In North Carolina, few details are made public in criminal cases involving minors. Still, Olympic students shared their anger and frustration with how principals are responding to their concerns.

The Observer asked CMS officials who decided to allow the athlete to play and if there is an internal investigation into the reports of sexual violence. CMS officials responded that they were working on the observer’s request for information.

Response from the Olympic director

This week, in an email to students, the director of Olympic said he was postponing the school’s annual Homecoming festivities, which were due to start on Monday. He then changed his mind, saying the students voted to keep the planned trip home, according to an email obtained by the Observer. The email also warns students that skipping classes to protest could result in a penalty.

“Emotions run high among the student body due to the lack of communication from the administration,” Olympic high school senior Joseph Asamoah-Boadu told The Observer. “We want to know if we are safe at school. So many questions go unanswered that people feel the only way to be heard is to go out.

Olympic director Casey Jones told students in an email on Sunday night that the demonstration organized by the students “had an impact on our whole school day”. Jones says the social media activity sparked brawls at school, and he says the “misinformation” has led to “confusion and anger within the community.” He also announced that the school will provide support for students who are sexually abused or who need a safe space to talk.

In her email, Jones wrote that students who leave the classroom or interrupt the school day will face disciplinary action under the district code of conduct.

The protest came about a week after students saw the accused football player on the pitch wearing an ankle monitor, and about two weeks after a sexual assault was reported on campus. Arrests were made in both cases, school and police officials confirmed.

In the latter case, a 15-year-old boy has been charged with rape and sexual assault, as well as kidnapping, CMPD officials said. In this case, a 16-year-old Olympic student said she was assaulted at school.

Both cases have led to various allegations of harassment on the Olympic High School campus and students voicing their concerns to school administrators and the community.

“Many teachers and staff agree with the message of the protest,” Asamoah-Boadu said. “I don’t think anyone wants the education day to be disrupted, but they can sympathize with the cause.”

Another Olympic high school student, Caryna Cozaya, 14, said during last week’s protest that she filed a complaint with the school after a student in her class made sexual remarks to her. respect.

“We cannot represent a school that allows rape and allows students to still be here. We only have the other. We need you to be with us. If our manager doesn’t do anything about it, and the administrative staff won’t do anything about it, then who is left? It’s just us, ”she said.

Policy only for conviction

CMS athletic director Ericia Turner said on Friday that district or school officials “hadn’t made the right choice,” referring to the student-athlete who had been accused of being allowed to participate in a football match. It is not known how many times the athlete has played since his arrest.

Turner said that in the future, any student-athlete arrested or charged with a criminal offense will be barred from playing while charges are pending.

“We will make it clear to our coaches and athletic directors that we must meet standards aligned with our code of student conduct,” she said.

A new policy affecting athletes accused of crimes will have to be a board-approved change, CMS officials said. According to James Alverson of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, the organization’s crime policy listed in its textbook states that a student is not allowed to play a sport in high school only if that student has been recognized. guilty of a crime.

“The NCHSAA policy does not take effect until after a conviction,” Alverson told The Observer. “Schools or school systems may have a stricter policy, no less strict than the NCHSAA policy.”

CMS policy states that students convicted of a felony are subject to the NCHSAA rules for not participating in extracurricular activities. CMS Board Policy also states: “A student suspended from school for conduct which constitutes a violation of board policy and / or school rules will not be permitted to participate in any activities. extracurricular activities for the duration of the suspension ”.

It is not known if the Olympic high school football player has been suspended from school.

Barbara Osborne, professor of athletic administration at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said the school’s decision to allow the football player to play was not, in and of itself, likely a violation of the title IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that gives students the right to an education free from sexual harassment. The regulations require schools to inform students of their rights and make it clear how to file a Title IX complaint.

But Osborne said it raises the question of the values ​​of school administrators and the message they send to the community.

“If the school allows him to continue participating in regular activities and he harms someone else, then the school would be responsible because it does not appear that it has taken the necessary preventive measures. to protect the original victim as well as others from harm they certainly knew about, ”said Osborne, whose expertise is in sports law around the issue of violence / sexual harassment .

“As far as I know, a monitor just tells you where someone is, that doesn’t stop them from doing anything.”

“Left in the dark”

The district continues to grapple with reports of sexual violence on school campuses.

Officials instituted changes for the start of the school year after CMS leaders came under fire for the district’s response to issues at Myers Park High School, where former students have sued over to sexual assaults on campus; and others protested alleged violations of Title IX, the Observer previously reported.

CMS said it would strengthen anti-harassment training for both staff and students, and create a working group to look at how reports of sexual misconduct by students are handled.

But various Myers Park and Olympic students told the Observer they had yet to receive formal Title IX training. Students who received the training said it was “not complete at all”.

Title IX and federal regulations require that schools provide both anti-harassment training and follow certain protocols when investigating and resolving cases related to violence and sexual misconduct.

“At no time was I given any information on what to do if I was sexually harassed / assaulted, or heard about harassment / sexual assault,” Asamoah-Boadu said. . “I’ve been told that if I ever ‘see something’ then I should ‘say something’.

“…. It feels like we’ve been left in the dark.”

Observer journalist Jonathan Limehouse contributed.

This story was originally published October 5, 2021 11:29 a.m.

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