RYH Statement: City Council Hearing on CPS Sex Abuse

On Wednesday, November 28, 2018, City Council's Committee on Education and Child Development finally had a hearing "to address issue of sexual abuse and safety of children in Chicago Public Schools." 

You can find our thread of live tweets from the 3 hour hearing here. We participated in public comment. You can find our prepared statement below. 

Here are some things that may be of interest: CEO Jackson was not there nor was unelected CPS BOE President Frank Clark (neither appeared at the IL House and Senate joint hearing this past summer either.) Staffers from the new $3M Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP) were present, gave a presentation explaining their role and staffing and answered many questions from several alderman. Their current interim chief is Douglas Henning, who moved from the CPS Law Department into this position. Jadine Chou, Chief of Safety and Security, gave a presentation on the new background check policy. The CPS Inspector General, Nick Schuler, also answered questions as did Matt Lyons, Chief Talent Officer. Kyle Hillman of the National Social Workers Association testified to the need from more social workers in our schools. All in all, the alderman asked some really good questions but no next steps were determined before adjournment of the hearing.

Press coverage:

Chicago Tribune: Hundreds of sexual misconduct complaints pour into new CPS Title IX office

Sun-Times: More than 600 new complaints land at CPS' new department dealing with sex abuse

Chalkbeat Chicago: Could Chicago schools do a better job protecting students? Some city officials think so

 

Jennie Biggs, CPS Mom of 3, RYH Communications Director

Below is our prepared statement. We did cut the italicized parts below because those questions had been answered during the course of the CPS testimony. We did implore CPS to share all the information about the new OSP and Title IX with parents- that was the first time we were seeing that information and all parents, students, and educators should have access to this important presentation.

 

Raise Your Hand pushes for policies that put children first and that ensure better accountability and transparency. We appreciate that you called this hearing today and we encourage you to create an ongoing public discussion of this matter and all public education issues in our city.

We at RYH were horrified, saddened and infuriated when we read about the rampant cases of sexual abuse and assault of students at CPS over the past decade which were published by the Chicago Tribune as their “Betrayed” investigation in early June.

Parents are angry that there was no standard protocol in place for students or schools to report cases of abuse or for families to be notified if arrests were made at their schools. Further, parents are angry that it took a newspaper investigation for CPS to say they are going to systemically address their failings.

We’ve been following the CPS sex abuse stories very closely: the Trib has continued to investigate and publish stories since the initial June 1 series of stories; there was no parent, educator, and community engagement in developing the new background policy (and other policies); the Hickey report exposed the lack of systems & structures necessary to ensure student safety- and these were missing at every level; the federal government withheld some CPS funds because there was no Title IX coordinator until the Trib investigation forced it; and there was an IL House and Senate joint hearing in mid June which was eye opening and which will probably result in some new legislation.

CPS did respond to the Trib investigation: they established or updated policies and procedures; they established a new office- the Office of Student Protection and Title IX; and they created a web page- entitled “Protecting Chicago’s Students”- dedicated to keeping parents, educators, and students informed about the sex abuse issue and explaining how to report abuse.

We would really love to hear some updates from CPS on how things are going especially with the new Office of Student Protections and Title IX. Many of the reasons for this became clear at the IL House and Senate joint hearing this summer. Here’s what we learned there:

  • CPS lawyers report to the unelected board president.
  • Two students testified. When they came forward with their abuse. they were both questioned several times by CPS lawyers in their school buildings with no parent or other trusted adult with them.
  • Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (ChicagoCAC) and the IL Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) testified. The procedure that should be followed & that is based in law includes a mandated reporter or parent/guardian calling DCFS or 911 immediately upon learning of abuse. At no point should CPS or their law department be conducting an investigation or questioning a victim. DCFS or the police and in conjunction with the ChicagoCAC begin a forensic investigation (this requires specialized training) with child well being at the heart of the entire process. ChicagoCAC stressed that children should not be questioned repeatedly- this is traumatizing and puts the criminal investigation in jeopardy. Figuring out what happened is not the job of CPS or the CPS law department. It is the job of DCFS, the police, and the ChicagoCAC.

We’d like some proof that all of the above was considered when forming this new Office. We want a full report on this new office. What is the staffing? What type of training did they receive? What is their role? What is the investigative process followed? At what points are parents involved, notified, etc.? Where’s the transparency and accountability for his office? Is there a plan to offer consistent public reporting and a way to provide feedback or give parents, students, and educators a seat at the table to make some policy decisions about this office?

Further, we are still gravely concerned that the climate and culture of victim shaming and blaming has just moved from one office- the CPS Law Department- to this new Office of Student Protection. A way to combat this mistrust is to start sharing some info about this office and also codify the investigatory procedure in the Student Code of Conduct. Is it the same one for bullying? CPS students, families, and communities deserve some transparency now on this new office.

Additionally, we’d love to know the plan for student, parent & educator feedback on the policy and procedural changes. Yes, those new policies were sorely needed and had to be implemented but they were top down and should be reviewed and modified based on feedback from those at the school level. For example, there are different interpretations of the new background check policy- some schools are requiring any parent who enters the school building for any type of meeting to have a background check. Other schools are allowing parents into LSC and PAC meetings and only require background checks for parents and others who interact with children. Some of our friends in community based organizations have had to shut down programming, like GED and ESL classes for parents, at neighborhood schools. This definitely impedes parent engagement at the school level, especially in black and brown communities. We would love an update on this and what types of changes will be made to policies so parents and community members can continue to participate at the school level.

The web page created & pushed to parents as a way to keep us abreast of developments has not been updated since September 7. It is very adult centric- meaning it’s geared toward parents & educators. We think there needs to be something added to make it accessible- and clear- to students, explaining what to do if they are a victim or know a victim. Everywhere on these pages---- there needs to be something like a flowchart (?) that includes the phone numbers for DCFS, OSP, and OIG and why you would call any of these offices. Yes, there are posters up at schools. But kids need this info, clearly laid out, on the CPS website. And probably prominently displayed on the district homepage.

Parents have a right to know if their school is using the mandated sexual health curriculum, if they are doing required trainings and following reporting laws. It is unclear if required training has happened and we are not sure what, if anything, has been put in place to ensure that all schools are using the CPS mandated sexual health curriculum.

Finally, critical clinician positions keep kids safe, healthy and in the best place possible so they can reach their academic and human potential. Many of these positions have been gutted and are at disgustingly low ratios. CPS needs, at minimum, 1,000 more social workers to meet the better than 1:250 ratio recommended. Put MORE social workers and school psychologists in the schools so that students have a place to deal with the stress and trauma they are facing. We'd like an update on efforts to increase wrap around supports for all of our students and what’s the plan to reach that 1,000 more?

Sexual misconduct and abuse happen, and this is not at all a unique CPS phenomenon, but what is disturbing is the utter lack of systems the district put in place to protect students after receiving hundreds of reports. The unelected Board of Ed and management at CPS failed to put together a plan to reduce this, and principals and schools acted as individual islands on their own with no oversight or procedure to follow. Righting this will be a long, ongoing process which will require public engagement, transparency, and accountability. Our children deserve nothing less. Thank you.

 

Please join us on Thursday, December 6: Betrayed: A Conversation with Chicago Tribune reporters. More information and RSVP here.

 

 

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