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Sex Education, CMS-style

Did school officials break the law by not reporting abuser?

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The members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board have clearly lost their minds.

This week, the board is grilling Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Interim Superintendent Francis Haithcock, who is competing for the superintendent slot, about her vision for the future. Instead, the board should be grilling her about why the school system broke state law and violated its own policies by not reporting a sex assault last May, the month Haithcock took over.

If school board members gave a rat's rump about the kids, Haithcock would be three-quarters of the way out the door by now and in the process of hiring a good defense attorney.

At the beginning of last week, even the school system's kid-glove handlers at the Charlotte Observer were beginning to ask disturbing questions about why outside agencies with jurisdiction to investigate a sex crime between a CMS teacher and his student last spring weren't told by school officials about the alleged crime.

But by the end of the week, after one of the most remarkable spin jobs I've ever seen, everyone was looking at the Huntersville police for an explanation. That's highly ironic when you consider that the police department doesn't even have the jurisdiction to investigate the crime, because the crime occurred during a trip to Myrtle Beach.

What seems to have gotten lost are two simple facts. When CMS failed to report to the department of social services an alleged sexual assault that occurred between Francis Bradley Middle School teacher Jimmie Grubbs and one of his students, the school system broke state law. The system also violated its own child abuse reporting policy. In the process, an alleged child sex abuser, who appears to have had multiple victims, remained free to terrorize children for at least another seven months.

School officials would like for you to believe this is a complicated legal matter. It isn't.

Two legal experts at UNC-Chapel Hill told me the same thing this week. When school officials anywhere in North Carolina find out that abuse may have occurred, state law dictates they must report it immediately to social services for investigation. There are no exceptions.

Despite this, the Observer reported, CMS spokesperson LaTarzja Henry said the school system wasn't required to report the Grubbs allegations to social services. According to a Wednesday article, Henry told the paper that NC laws making reporting mandatory only apply if the abuse is inflicted or allowed by a parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker. But that's not what the school system's own abuse policy says.

According to the policy, any school employee who has cause to suspect that any child has been abused "must report the case of such child to the Director, or his authorized representative, of the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, as is required by North Carolina law."

The policy, like the state law, makes no exceptions. I'm not sure which part of CMS' own policy its officials don't understand, but I do know this: It appears shool officials have broken the law, and an investigation by law enforcement is in order.

CMS officials and Huntersville police agree that they spoke with each other at least twice about the Grubbs case. But Huntersville police claim the school system only asked the department to help school officials escort Grubbs off campus. Capt. Michael Kee says that because the crime occurred out of state, the department had no jurisdiction to investigate it, a contention the UNC experts supported. Kee says that was made clear to CMS. Despite this, he says his department offered to help in the investigation in any way that was needed -- even to call the Myrtle Beach police on CMS' behalf. Huntersville police say CMS officials turned these offers of help down, saying they were handling the situation.

Given the gravity of the situation, you could argue Huntersville police should have called the Myrtle Beach police, no matter what CMS told them, if only to make sure the matter was being taken care of. But that still doesn't let the school system off the hook.

So far, CMS has yet to publicly clarify exactly what its officials asked Huntersville police to do. CMS spokespeople declined to answer our questions about whether they turned down offers of help from Huntersville police, including the police department's offer to contact Myrtle Beach police. Instead, system officials sent us a canned statement that reiterated CMS had contacted the Huntersville police. What, if anything, they asked the department to do was not included in the statement.

Last week, Myrtle Beach Police Captain David Knipes told CL that CMS has never contacted his department about the Grubbs case. The MBPD did not find out about the situation until it heard from Huntersville Police in December, after a second alleged victim told his therapist about abuse by Grubbs and the therapist contacted social services.

It's an unfathomable dereliction of duty that CMS never contacted the Myrtle Beach Police or social services. The whole thing reeks of a cover-up of a sexual assault that would have been devastating to the school system last summer, when it was facing calls by angry Huntersville parents for a split-up of the system and answering allegations that CMS had lied to the state about student discipline numbers. All of this was also going on as the school bond campaign was gearing up. And it certainly could have been damaging to Haithcock's stealth crusade for the superintendent's job.

So the kids, as usual, were sacrificed. And this is what CMS calls preparing kids for greatness?

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