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Abuse alleged at Oprah Winfrey's South African school

  • Story Highlights
  • Report: Student says dorm parent grabbed her by the throat
  • Winfrey aides say she flew to South Africa twice to speak to parents, pupils
  • Winfrey founded $40 million school in January to help disadvantaged girls
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(CNN) -- South African police are investigating abuse allegations at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, the talk-show host's $40 million school for disadvantaged girls near Johannesburg.

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Oprah Winfrey, who founded the school this year, has apologized in connection with the incident.

Investigators declined to provide details of the alleged abuse and said no charges have been filed. The academy's CEO, John Samuel, said in a statement earlier this month that an internal inquiry was launched based on a claim of misconduct involving a dormitory parent.

According to an article in The Cape Argus, a Cape Town newspaper, the dorm parent allegedly grabbed a pupil by the throat and threw her against a wall, the girl claimed. Girls at the school also claimed that the matron swore and screamed at the girls and assaulted them, the newspaper reported Saturday.

The newspaper said one of the pupils ran away from the school, blaming the alleged abuse.

In an emergency meeting with pupils and parents at the school, Winfrey apologized in connection with the incident. "I've disappointed you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she said tearfully, according to numerous South African media reports.

Winfrey's representatives said she flew to South Africa twice in October to meet with parents of girls at the academy, although they would not specify what the meetings were about.

Previously, Winfrey -- who has spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered as a child -- issued a statement on October 17 saying, "Nothing is more serious or devastating to me than an allegation of misconduct by an adult against any girl at the academy."

In the statement, Samuel said South African child protection services were notified and that the dorm parent was removed from the campus. "We have engaged professional investigators of the highest standing from South Africa and the United States to conduct a fair and impartial inquiry into these claims," the statement said.

The school's head has agreed to take a paid leave of absence pending the results of the investigation, although she is not the subject of the allegation, Samuel said.

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The national prosecuting authority is deciding whether or not criminal charges will be filed. In an October 23 statement, Samuel referred inquiries to the South African Child Protection Services Unit.

The academy opened in January with a student body made up of some of South Africa's poorest children. The academy provides its 450 students with textbooks, uniforms and meals. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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