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NC school allowed football player accused of sex offense to play in game. Some fellow high school students aren't happy about it.
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NC school allowed football player accused of sex offense to play in game. Some fellow high school students aren't happy about it.

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Days after an Olympic High student-led walkout protesting sexual violence, questions remain about the school’s response and the case of an athlete who was allowed to play football after being criminally charged.

Since last week’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 the start of the school year with a felony sex offense reported off campus. Three district officials confirmed those details and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ athletic director 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 Olympic player took the field while wearing a court-ordered electronic monitoring device, or ankle bracelet — an aspect of the case that particularly angers some students. The two CMS officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying the school is looking into what happened and they aren’t allowed to discuss specific students publicly.

State high school sports rules permit student-athletes under criminal investigation to continue playing and only require exclusion if the student-athlete is convicted. CMS policy is similar, but that may be changing.

Last week’s protest — when hundreds of students walked out of class in the morning and protested for hours in front of the school and on the shoulder of Sandy Porter Road — centered on sexual assault cases, including the one involving the football player and another that police have said happened at the school.

In North Carolina, few details are publicly released in criminal cases involving juveniles. Still, Olympic students, have shared anger and frustration over how school leaders are responding to their concerns.

The Observer has asked CMS officials who decided to allow the athlete to play and whether there’s an internal investigation about reports of sexual violence. CMS officials responded they are working on the Observer’s request for information.

Olympic principal response

This week, in an email to students, Olympic’s principal said he was postponing the school’s annual Homecoming festivities, set to begin last Monday. He later changed his mind, saying students had voted to keep the scheduled Homecoming, according to an email obtained by the Observer. The email also warns students that skipping class to protest could result in punishment.

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

Olympic Principal Casey Jones told students in an email Sunday night that the student-organized protest “impacted our entire school day.” Jones says social media activity has instigated fights at school, and he claims “misinformation” has led to “confusion and anger within the community.” He also announced the school would provide support to students who are a victim of sexual abuse or need a safe space to talk.

In his email, Jones wrote students who walk out of class or who interrupt the school day will face discipline under the district’s code of conduct.

The protest was held about a week after students saw the accused football player on the field 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 have confirmed.

In the latter case, a 15-year-old boy was charged with rape and sexual battery, as well as kidnapping, CMPD officials have said. In that case, a 16-year-old Olympic student reported she’d been assaulted at school.

Both cases have led to various claims of harassment on Olympic High’s campus and students taking 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 educational day to be disrupted, but they can empathize with the cause.”

Another Olympic High student, Caryna Cozaya, 14, said at last week’s protest she filed a complaint with the school after a student in her class made sexual remarks toward her.

“We can’t represent a school who allows rape and who allows students still to be here. We only have each other. We need you to stand with us. If our principal is not gonna do anything about this, and the administration staff won’t do anything about this, then who’s left? It’s only us,” she said.

Policy only for conviction

CMS Athletic Director Ericia Turner said last week that district or school officials “did not make the right call,” referring to the student-athlete who’d been charged being allowed to participate in a football game. It’s unclear how often the athlete played since he was arrested.

Turner said moving forward, any student-athlete arrested or charged with a criminal offense would be barred from playing while charges are pending.

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

A new policy affecting athletes charged with crimes will need to be a board-approved change, according to CMS officials. According to James Alverson, of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, the organization’s felony policy listed in its handbook says a student is ineligible to play high school sports only if that student has been convicted of a felony.

“The NCHSAA policy only takes effect after a conviction,” Alverson told the Observer. “Schools or school systems may have a more stringent, not less stringent, policy in place than the NCHSAA policy.”

The policy at CMS says students convicted of a felony are subject to NCHSAA’s rules for not participating in extracurricular activities. CMS board policy also states: “A student suspended from school for conduct that constitutes a violation of Board policy and/or school rules will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities during the length of suspension.”

It is unclear if the Olympic High football player was suspended from school.

Barbara Osborne, a professor of sports administration at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said the school’s decision to allow the football player to play is not, in itself, likely a Title IX violation. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that entitles students to an education free of sexual harassment. Regulations require schools to educate students on their rights and make it clear how to file a Title IX complaint.

But Osborne said it does beg the question about school administrators’ values and the message they send to the community.

“If the school allows him to continue to participate in regular activities and he harms someone else, then the school would be liable because it doesn’t look like they took the preventative steps they would need to take in order to protect the original victim as well as others from harm that they definitely knew about,” said Osborne, whose expertise is in the area of sports law around the issue of sexual violence/harassment.

“As far as I know, a monitor just tells you where someone is, it doesn’t keep 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 were criticized for how the district responded to issues at Myers Park High School, where former students have sued following sexual assaults on campus, and others have held protests over alleged Title IX violations, the Observer previously reported.

CMS said it would strengthen anti-harassment training both for staff and students, and create a task force to review how student reports of sexual misconduct are handled.

But various students at both Myers Park and Olympic have told the Observer they have yet to receive any sort of formal Title IX training. Students who have received training said it was “not comprehensive at all.”

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

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

“.... It feels like we have been left in the dark.”

Observer reporter Jonathan Limehouse contributed.

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