New Hanover Schools policy could solve sexual misconduct complaints quicker

·3 min read
NHCS administrative building in Wilmington, N.C. Thursday Jan. 6, 2022.
NHCS administrative building in Wilmington, N.C. Thursday Jan. 6, 2022.

The New Hanover County Board of Education has taken steps toward more efficiently addressing sexual misconduct complaints.

Earlier this month board members unanimously approved adding the option of an informal investigation process into its Title IX policy — a policy that addresses how the district handles reports of sexual misconduct in schools.

“The informal resolution process allows for the parties to have more say and more of a better grasp on how this particular situation impacts them directly and better fits their needs, while also providing a quicker resolution than the formal process,” said Jarelle Lewis, the district’s Title IX coordinator.

The informal process is recommended by the North Carolina School Boards Association to have as an option for students who report Title IX complaints.

Board Chairwoman Stephanie Kraybill said the informal measures were left out of the policy when it was adopted in October 2020 and revised in February 2021 to give the district time to ensure it knew how to follow the formal grievance process.

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The formal process can be lengthy, sometimes taking up to four months depending on the circumstances, such as how many witnesses a case may include, or if a student involved has a disability. It requires investigators to follow specific steps in collecting information and deciding if a Title IX policy was broken.

With the informal process, parties involved have more say in how an issue is solved, Lewis explained. Investigators and the parties also have a range of options as to how to resolve issues, Lewis further told the board during its August meeting.

The informal process requires written consent from both parties involved, and either can choose to pull out of the investigation process at any time, which would then return the investigation to a formal procedure.

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Lewis would continue to have oversight of all complaints, as he does now, and he said parents are always brought into the conversation once a complaint is made.

Most notably, though, the informal process is only an option if a student files a complaint against another student, or an employee against another employee. The informal process is eliminated as an option if the complaint is between a student and an employee.

“With our history and what we have been through, I don’t want to have the public in any way, shape or form question what we’re doing,” said board member Judy Justice.

Justice had concerns about the informal option and how it would work and alluded to past issues with sexual misconduct in the school district.

New Hanover County Schools saw decades of sexual abuse by teachers come to light in recent years.

In 2018, former teacher Michael Kelly was arrested and later pleaded guilty to 59 counts of sexual abuse after more than a dozen former students came forward with complaints against him. Earlier this year another former teacher, Peter Frank, was found guilty of 17 counts of sexual abuse against former students. 

Nicholas Oates, a former teaching assistant, was arrested but died before going to trial from an apparent medical emergency. David Bostian was arrested last year for an alleged relationship with a former student and died by suicide after posting bail.

Lewis said informal investigations would make the reporting process easier for all involved because of its more efficient approach for students and staff who make Title IX complaints.

Contact reporter Sydney Hoover at shoover@gannett.com or on Twitter @sydneymhoover. Join the Education Issues in Southeastern North Carolina Facebook group to stay up-to-date on education news.

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: New Hanover Schools policy could help with sexual misconduct complaints