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Sexual abuse at CMS sparks lawsuit

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If the charges made in a lawsuit against the school board are true, it is inexplicable that Dr. Maureen Furr, principal of South Mecklenburg High School, still has a job.

Under her watch, the school's band teacher, Richard Priode, pled guilty in 2009 to charges of felony indecent liberties with a student. What's so outrageous about the case is that he repeatedly sexually abused the student at school as he broke her down psychologically, "relentlessly" obsessed with eventually taking her virginity. For more than a year, starting in 2007, he had her giving him oral sex repeatedly in his office or in the band room, often making her late for her next class. She was 16 and he was 42 at the time.

After a year of this, according to civil court documents, Priode "finally managed to take [the victim's] virginity on a school-sponsored band trip." (The victim's name has been left out of court documents to protect her privacy.)

"While other students doubled up in their motel rooms, Priode insisted on [the victim] having her own individual room, and it was on this trip that he had vaginal intercourse with her," according to court records.

In this space, I've documented Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' long history (See "Broken record: Sexual assaults and CMS, 3-29-11) of returning students convicted of sexually assaulting their peers at school to school hallways unsupervised to do it again.

Pleas for help by parents are ignored. Supervisors remain employed after protecting the guilty as the system turns its back on these young women, leaving their parents and the courts, both civil and criminal, to pick up the pieces. This time, school administrators seemingly ignored warning signs that allowed the abuse to continue.

Court documents from the civil lawsuit against the school board by the victim, now 19, and her family, contain details the public wouldn't normally get. Tracy Smith, an adult working with the school's color guard, complained to Furr about the sexual innuendos and remarks Priode made about the victim and other female students. According to court documents, when she complained to Furr, Smith was advised that she "was not an employee of the school and she should refrain from funneling complaints about Priode to Dr. Furr and that she should receive them directly as it was her job to deal with such matters."

Smith was later fired from her position at South Mecklenburg. Smith apparently wasn't the only one to complain. The school system ignored frequent complaints about Priode's "inappropriate sexual remarks and practices with other students" and failed to investigate them, according to the lawsuit.

Priode had a history of inappropriate behavior with students at some of his prior schools that should have been known to the Board, had a proper background check been conducted, the lawsuit alleges. Also, at the time of the lawsuit, Priode was married to one of his former students, the lawsuit says, "notwithstanding a significant age difference between them."

In an era where sex abuse by adults and particularly teachers regularly makes the news, why are CMS teachers taking students on trips so poorly chaperoned or supervised that they feel comfortable committing felony indecent liberties with them? Why is teachers' contact with students so poorly supervised that they are able to have oral sex with them repeatedly in the classroom or office?

This comes on the heels of a WSOC TV report that a 13-year-old girl was forced into a bathroom at James Martin Middle School and sexually assaulted by three boys who held her down and took turns fondling her while she screamed for help.

One of the boys was arrested in connection with a similar assault on a bus in 2010, WSOC-TV reported. At the time, school officials said he had been "disciplined" for the assault. But somehow, this kid is now free to roam the halls unsupervised. The victim's mother is outraged that the attackers haven't been suspended and continue to taunt her daughter at school while police investigate.

It's the same pattern I've been writing about for years. The victim is suing the right group of people — the school board. We'd never tolerate the kind of sexual abuse of young women that goes on in area schools on our streets or in our workplaces.

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