N.C. School Lets Student Facing Sexual Assault Charges Play Football, Suspends Female Athletes Who Protested
A North Carolina high school is under fire for suspending female athletes who participated in a student-led protest over the district letting a male student play football while facing sexual assault accusations.
On Oct. 1, Olympic High students protested for the safety of females in the school after a male student charged with a sexual felony was allowed to continue playing on the school's football team.
"If you get your phone taken in class, you're benched, but yet he can be under investigation for a sexual crime and still get to play on Friday, that is ridiculous," Sereniti Simpson, one of the students who helped organize the walk-out told WCNC.
Multiple volleyball players who participated in the walk-out, including Simpson, were punished with a one-game suspension, she told WJZY.
"Honestly, I'm just disgusted that they let a football player who has sexual assault allegations against him play with an ankle monitor," one of the suspended volleyball players who asked to not be identified told the Charlotte Observer. "But because I speak out for feeling unsafe I get punished and not allowed to play in a game."
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According to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools official, the district had approved a separate indoor demonstration in the school's gym but not the the student-led walkout, the Observer reports. (PEOPLE could not reach school officials for comment Friday.)
"No students have been disciplined for participating in the demonstration," Patrick Smith, the district's assistant superintendent of communications, told the paper. "The walkout was not part of the planned demonstration, and was a safety hazard for students, staff and others in the area. Students who chose to walk out were informed they could face consequences due to such violations as unauthorized absence or endangering themselves and others."
Still, parents and mentors of the students who walked out say the punishment was unnecessary.
"It's almost like they're trying to silence this group of youth that would be instrumental in changing things going forward," Melissa McAtee, a mentor to Olympic High students, told WJZY.
Simpson has since turned in her jersey and told WJZY she has no regrets about her actions and hopes to continue raising more awareness.
"It's not a rare issue," Simpson said. "It's not a foreign issue, and it affects all of us every day."
According to WCNC, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police confirmed that on Sept. 14, the 15-year-old suspect was charged with attempted second-degree rape, second-degree kidnapping, and sexual battery.
Following the backlash from the community, Erica Turner, system athletic director for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, told reporters, "in this incident we did not make the right call."
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Code of Conduct handbook for the 2021-2022 school year states that a student who is "convicted of a crime classified as a felony under North Carolina or federal law ... is not eligible to participate in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association's sports program."
The football player who was accused of sexual assault has been charged, but not convicted.
Turner announced that in response to recent events, the policy has been amended to read, "any student-athlete that is arrested or charged with a criminal offense will not be allowed to participate while charges are pending," WCNC and WJZY report.