As everyone knows, a groundbreaking and brutal report from the Chicago Tribune exposed that protections have not been in place at CPS to minimize sexual abuse and harassment of students while at school. The Trib has reported on both adult-student incidents as well as student-student incidents- over 400 in the past 7 years- all in CPS school buildings.
An attorney, Maggie Hickey, was hired by CPS to review the handling of sexual abuse allegations and to make policy recommendations. Her preliminary report entitled “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct against Students in Chicago Public Schools” came out Friday. During her investigation, Hickey interviewed 80 people including principals, CEO Janice Jackson and Board President Frank Clark. The report can be found here.
The report is 97 pages long. RYH read it and found these items to be of particular concern:
- ”...systemic deficiencies in training, reporting, aggregating data, tracking trends, and comprehending the extent of the sexual misconduct…” Page 1; these deficiencies occurred at all levels
- There were no centralized policies; principals who were interviewed reported not knowing where to find policies on how to respond to reports of sexual abuse
- Some principals said they had never seen guidelines
- Some principals reported not knowing that there was a mandated sexual health curriculum and others confirmed not meeting that requirement
- The law department was both in charge of investigating cases and representing CPS in those cases- a major conflict of interest
- The CPS investigative unit which was part of the law department was understaffed and not adequately trained; it was comprised of many full time and part time workers via vendors who CPS relied too heavily on to conduct investigations
- Many student victims received no support from CPS clinicians (schools are wildly understaffed in this area); most principals reported being understaffed in areas of social work, counselors, etc.
- CPS is a district that uses many vendors- adults who are not full time employees who are in and out of school buildings; there was not consistent policy on background checks for vendors
- CPS was tracking reported incidents in an Excel spreadsheet
- In 2016-2017, the understaffed investigative unit received 7,500 reports of misconduct via the “Verify” system (not just sexual misconduct); 1,600 were about sexual harassment, 2,300 DCFS notifications, etc.
- Not until 2017 did some charter schools start to comply with CPS background check policies; all charter schools now comply
Note: after the Trib broke this story, CPS launched a $3M, 20-person office called the Office of Student Protection (OSP) to handle student-student sexual abuse cases. They are supposed to forward allegations of adult-student misconduct to the CPS IG, Nicholas Schuler, but the same attorneys who were interrogating students without adults present and then representing CPS in court on these cases are LEADING THIS NEW OSP DEPARTMENT. This is unacceptable. Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable for this terrible practice? Also, the law department reports to the Board President who apparently didn’t ensure that any systems were put in place to minimize sexual misconduct in the schools. Why is he still there?
In addition, CPS says they’ve made many changes, and you can read those in the report, but we question how these things will be actionable without solid systems and structures in place and within a system that is not transparent or accountable?
Lastly, 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. You should get your questions answered if you have them, and if your principal won’t communicate with you, let us know. 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.