By Frances Weller | April 21, 2021 at 7:24 PM EDT – Updated April 21 at 11:45 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – When Dr. Charles Foust started his position as superintendent of New Hanover County Schools on Sept. 1, 2020, he was well aware of the history of teachers charged with sex crimes. He did his homework.
He also schooled board members on where he stood.
“One of the things that I shared in my interview is that I’m a relentless leader and so I’m relentless in making sure that students are safe,” Foust said. “And it matters not how long you’ve been in the district — how short a time you’ve been in the district — if you do something that is illegal, we’re taking action.”
“I just want us to build a culture that — you shouldn’t have to put it on Facebook — you should be able to come to the employer,” Foust said.
A post on social media led to at least one of two arrests within the past month — two more former educators charged with sexual misconduct with students.
A week later, a former volleyball coach at Hoggard High School was arrested and charged with sex crimes after two former students alleged he abused them in the 1980′s.
“It was sent to me — sent it right to our HR department,” Foust said in defense of not releasing information earlier. “Immediately that night, they contacted the Wilmington Police Department and shared the information. The next morning, we did bring the individual in and did what we needed to do on the personnel side. The reason we couldn’t share more is that they were investigating so we can’t get in front of an investigation.”
Foust says background checks are conducted on all applicants applying for a job within the school system, but admits predators can fall through the cracks unless there is an arrest record.
Foust, who is the father of two girls, says keeping children safe is a priority for him. He says there are several programs in place to help identify potential offenders. Over the past two years, NHCS has taken several steps to train staff and students, prevent child abuse, and provide the safe learning environment that all children and families deserve.
“You know we have the Ethix360, we have the bystander training, we have say-something training. When we talk about the training that they are supposed to do, making sure that if you hear something, you see something, that you report it,” said Foust.
New Hanover County Schools uses Ethix360, an independent third party service that allows people to reach out and report potential violations anonymously. The website is available 24/7 and all reports remain confidential.
Say Something is another anonymous reporting system that allows anyone with concerns for another person’s safety to submit a tip or call a hotline to get help for at-risk individuals before they hurt themselves or others.
A new program called “Bringing in the Bystander” is the bystander training referred to by Foust. It was added to the high school health and physical education curriculum in January 2021 to encourage students to advocate for themselves and others to prevent sexual and interpersonal violence and harassment.
Additional programs introduced in August 2019, before Foust was hired, include Shifting Boundaries to raise awareness and prevent bullying in middle schools, and Darkness to Light training for employees to identify child abuse.
The Shifting Boundaries program was added to the 6th grade curriculum to help middle school students form healthy relationships and understand when personal boundaries are crossed so they can identify harassment and bullying.
Darkness to Light teaches adults how to recognize signs of child sexual abuse and provides a framework for the mandated reporting process.
A Title IX Investigator was hired by NHCS in November 2020 and a safety management solution called Gaggle is the most recent tool added to increase safety for students using school-provided digital devices. Gaggle monitors district email accounts for students in grades 2-12 for harmful content and alerts school officials so they can intervene and provide support when needed.
Foust is hopeful but realistic. There is a chance, he says, more accusers could come forward.
“I’ll say it this way,” he says. “I have learned to never say never. So there possibly could be others that are there but I’m going to share this with you and everyone else who would be watching — the moment that we find [out] is the moment that we take action.”
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