I-TEAM: Exposing more problems with Title IX in Richmond County schools

Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 6:22 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The I-TEAM has already shown you how Butler High School did not follow federal requirements when a student reported a sexual assault, but it doesn’t stop there.

You probably hear about Title IX and think about gender equality in sports, but the law also protects students who report sexual assaults on campus.

Yet, an I-TEAM investigation gives Butler High School a failing grade.

The I-TEAM began digging into Richmond County schools and Title IX after a Butler High School student reported he had been sexually assaulted in the restroom during school.

WARNING: This story discusses sexual violence and suicide, so please take care when watching the video or reading further.

The student and his mother wanted to hide their identities. The young man told the I-TEAM he was suicidal the day he went to his school guidance counselor to report he had been sexually assaulted.

“I had seen that there was a video. Someone had sent to me, and I didn’t know there was a video made,” he said. “He said no one would believe me. I had something that somebody could believe me with.”

Instead of getting help, the school suspended him for 10 days.

According to the school’s incident report, the office became aware of this Nov. 16, 2022, but that’s not when the student says it happened.

He says it happened a month earlier, and a video of it was being shared among students at the school. He says he took the video with him to the guidance counselor, and the guidance counselor called his mother. She came to the school to meet with her son and the guidance counselor.

“‘He’s explained what happened, and I need to show you something that’s going to be very difficult, ‘” she says the guidance counselor told her. “’But I have to show you.’ And that’s when she pulled up the video,” his mother told the I-TEAM.


Butler High School falls short of following Title IX policies to help a student

Under Title IX, the school should have offered the student support, like counseling. That didn’t happen.

The school should have explained to him how to file a complaint under Title IX. That didn’t happen.

Perhaps none of that happened because Butler High School doesn’t know who is in charge of its Title IX program.

Title IX requires schools to designate a Title IX Coordinator and to “prominently post the contact information” on the school’s website, according to federal guidelines.

Incorrect and outdated Title IX contact posted for parents and students

When the I-TEAM looked for the Butler High Coordinator, we first found the name “Sharonda Thomas” listed on the Richmond County School System’s website.

RCSS had assured its site was up to date, but it wasn’t.

The I-TEAM filed an Open Records Request, and found a different name listed as Butler High School Coordinator: Bernard Johnson. RCSS corrected that name on its website once we started asking questions. That wasn’t the school system’s only wrong answer; many other Title IX coordinator names did not match, either.

As for information that was posted at Butler High School to help students, the I-TEAM found Title IX materials name yet another coordinator: Principal Stacey Maybray. She was the principal at the time, but she has since retired. The poster is dated 2020 at the bottom, meaning outdated Title IX materials were posted.

To review- that means when the student came forward reporting a sexual assault, not only did RCSS not give him the help required by the Federal Law, but also any student or parent who went looking for support from a Title IX Coordinator at Butler was given two different names, and the correct contact was not posted anywhere.

I-Team’s open records request seeking information

When the I-TEAM filed another Open Records Request, we asked for information about sex crimes or allegations at Butler for that school year as well as any Title IX complaints. Richmond County gave us one document. It was redacted, but it listed a total of four students who were involved in three incidents. All of those students were disciplined for “sex offenses at school.” The I-TEAM pressed, asking to confirm there were no Title IX complaints at Butler.

Only after we asked again, RCSS’s Legal and Compliance Officer Kim Fletcher Bowden said she “should have clarified there are no responsive records that can be provided; such documents are exempt due to FERPA and privacy laws.”

That’s not necessarily correct -- again.

Richmond County wouldn’t allow us to interview its system-wide Title IX Coordinator, Aronica Gloster.

It did give us a statement, which didn’t answer our basic questions. The statement included a link to the system’s Title IX policies, but that link didn’t work.

We pointed that out.

At last check, the dead link still wasn’t corrected.

“Our school system does not know how to handle Title IX,” said the Butler student’s mother. She added, “Our school system does not know how to handle Title IX violations.”

The student’s mother has hired an attorney, and she wants answers. She says her son is still in therapy and getting the help he needs. He’s doing much better at a new school.