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Police say Charlottesville City Schools never reported alleged sexual assault, broke Virginia law

Charlottesville City Schools’ handling of a reported sexual assault may have violated Virginia law.

The alleged assault occurred last spring. Instead of reporting the incident to police, the division chose to conduct an internal investigation. It found a sexual assault did not occur.

According to the division, the response to the allegation followed Virginia state law.

The Charlottesville Police Department disagrees.

Police Chief Michael Kochis and Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania alerted Superintendent Royal Gurley that the allegation should have been reported to authorities. That’s according to a Nov. 27 letter obtained by Courteney Stuart of radio station WINA and shared with The Daily Progress.

In the letter, Kochis and Platania cited a specific part of the Code of Virginia: 22.1-279.3:1.

“Our reading of that Code Section requires a principal to ‘immediately report to the local law enforcement agency any incident described in Section A3-A7.’ Paragraph D requires the principal or their designee to also notify the superintendent of the school division of any such incidents and sets forth potential sanctions for non-compliance,” they wrote.

It is not clear in which Charlottesville school the alleged assault occurred.

Police only became aware of the allegation because of Stuart’s WINA radio program, Charlottesville Right Now. During Stuart’s Nov. 21 interview with Regine Wright, the school division’s former coordinator of safety and security, Wright makes special note of a "sexual assault not being reported by the school" before declining to provide additional detail.

Wright, a former Charlottesville police detective, was not with Charlottesville City Schools long. While her hiring in March was much ballyhooed, her departure roughly three months later was not publicized.

When Stuart asked Wright why she left, Wright was blunt: "There were laws being broken. I wasn’t going to be a part of that."

Todd Koogler took over Wright’s post in September.

In that interview, Wright claimed an assault allegation was never reported to authorities. The Daily Progress was unable to reach Wright for further comment.

“To this date, the Charlottesville Police Department has not received any formal notification about this alleged incident,” Kochis and Platania wrote in their letter. “If a specified incident is alleged to have occurred, the law requires an immediate report to the Charlottesville Police Department.”

The school division appears to have a different interpretation of the law.

“Our policies and practices are in alignment with Virginia state code and Virginia School Board Association policy. We take any reports — even third-hand reports — of sexual assault seriously, and we follow our policies, procedures, and legal obligations with fidelity and in careful consultation with legal counsel,” the division wrote in a statement to The Daily Progress.

Immediately after her interview with Wright, Stuart brought on Gurley and Beth Cheuk, the division’s supervisor of community relations. The pair said they “worked very thoroughly to investigate” the allegation.

“We worked extremely closely with our lawyer just to be certain that we were in fact handling it correctly,” Cheuk said. “When we concluded that investigation, we did not find that there was sexual assault and both the involved students and their families supported our findings.”

Gurley also mentioned the school’s attorney.

“To make sure we are even more in accordance with the laws, we consulted our school board attorney through the whole process,” he said.

The city school board is represented by the Sands Anderson law firm.

“The investigation concluded that it was not a sexual assault. Both parties agreed. There were recommendations made. And that’s how those matters are resolved,” Gurley said. “We take those matters very seriously. So there would be no reason for us to hide those types of matters.”

Gurley did not answer directly when Stuart asked if assault allegations must be reported to police, but he did mention the same section of the Virginia Code cited by Kochis and Platania in their letter.

It is not clear why the school division and authorities appear to have different understandings of the same law.

“Charlottesville City Schools is in contact with the Charlottesville Police Department to address any concerns they may have and to continue strengthening our working relationship. Because of confidentiality considerations, we will not comment on any specific situation,” the division wrote in its statement.

The letter comes at a particularly difficult time for the division. Charlottesville High School has been embroiled in controversy in part due to students fighting in the halls and refusing to attend class or obey orders from staff. Just before Thanksgiving break, a series of brawls broke out across the school, requiring the police to restore order. In response, a slew of teachers refused to attend work the following day, forcing the school to cancel classes for several days.

And while the school is making an effort to fix what some say is a broken culture, many parents remain dissatisfied.

At the root of their concerns?

Transparency.

Parents have repeatedly told The Daily Progress that they are not given sufficient information by the school and often must resort to listening to second-hand information through their children and social media. They want better communication from the district.

The alleged sexual assault — which was not known by parents or even police before Stuart broke the news on WINA — is but the most recent example of a division struggling to provide answers and clarity to frustrated parents.

“If your understanding of the law differs or if counsel for the School Board has provided contrary guidance, we could be happy to meet at your earliest convenience to discuss the matter,” Platania and Kochis wrote. “We both thank you for your service to our community.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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