New Hanover County Schools: Title IX Committee discusses sexual assault prevention

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — In just the past few years, three New Hanover County School faculty members were arrested for the sexual assault of minors. Now, New Hanover County Schools is working to keep their students safe, rolling out plans in a Title IX Committee meeting Thursday.

“We’re making sure our students are in an environment prime for learning,” started Jarelle Lewis, the Title IX Coordinator. “And our employees have an environment prime for doing what they’re hired to do without sexual harassments or discrimination.”

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Since spring of 2019, the committee has partnered with the Carousel Center, Rape Crisis Center, and Coastal Horizons to provide resources to victims and those they report sexual assault to.

“It gives them the vocabulary of telling them that they’re brave,” explains Student Support Director Kristen Jackson, “thank you for coming forward, I’m going to help you through this.”

New Hanover County says it’s also focusing on preventing sexual violence.

Coastal Horizon’s Janie Dowda said before 2019, her programs helped kids in four to five middle schools. Now, she’s expanding to every school in the New Hanover County system, teaching kids K-12 bystander and boundary programs.

“And by the end, it’s taught these students empathy, and how they understand each other. And that we all are kind of on the same path. So, when somebody needs to step in and be a bystander, they already kind of know how to transition to that and what a bystander looks like.”

New Hanover County Schools is also educating faculty with their Darkness to Light program. Administration and teachers take the class to learn how to recognize signs of assault, and what to do to keep kids safe.

According to Amy Feath, a Carousel Center representative, “We need people in the community to learn how to intervene faster, to recognize signs and symptoms, and to not make it the child’s responsibility to then find the courage to tell… but rather, us having more of an active bystander role and responsibility as adult members in our community.”

According to Feath, if you see something, not only should you say something, you’re required by law as an adult.

“If you know or suspect that a child under the age of 18 has been physically or sexually abused, you are required by this new state bill 199 to report it to both law enforcement and DSS, because there are two avenues for justice for a child and their family should something have occurred.”

Those avenues are the criminal justice system and child protective services, who will evaluate with family units are contributing to abuse.

Lewis ended the meeting by outlining NHC’s updated Title IX website, new app called Ethics 360, where students can report violence or harassment anonymously, and a new full-time Title IX investigator.

The major takeaway: throughout the meeting, New Hanover County Schools made it clear students’ safety both on and off campus should always be first priority. And with these new plans for preventative and interventive Title IX policy, the school system is making efforts to reflect that.