A day after she was accused of falsifying student data at the alternative school she runs inside the Cook County Jail, a Chicago Public Schools principal has been banned by Sheriff Tom Dart from entering the jail.

Responding to a report by the schools inspector general, Dart said Wednesday that Sharnette Sims no longer is allowed at the jail.

“I strongly agree with the report’s findings and request that an interim principal be assigned,” Dart wrote to CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. “Effective tomorrow, September 14, Sims will not be allowed to enter the jail.”

Cara Smith, a top aide to Dart, said the sheriff has the authority to ban the principal, whom Chicago school officials have known since June had been found by the schools’ watchdog to have faked student attendance and credits to bolster the reputation of the York Alternative High School housed within the jail.

“We have to approve everyone who comes in to the jail,” Smith said. “Her presence there isn’t in the best interest of the detainees or the educational programing.”

Nicholas Schuler, the school system’s inspector general, made public a report Tuesday on his findings regarding the school and Sims, which he said he’d presented to Chicago Board of Education officials in June.

In it, Schuler urged that Sims, who’s paid $139,000 a year, be fired.

Schuler said Wednesday he’s “heartened that Sheriff Tom Dart’s office is taking our report so seriously.”

Sims didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.

District spokesman Michael Passman said Sims hasn’t been fired. After Passman said Wednesday morning Sims remained in charge of the school, which had about 200 students last year, Claypool informed Dart Wednesday evening that a retired principal would take over the school.

“Based upon what we have learned so far, our staff would appreciate a
meeting with members of your office to obtain additional information
concerning records that the jail provided to Principal Sims concerning
these matters,” Claypool wrote.

A student studies at York Alternative High School inside the Cook County Jail. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Schuler found that the high school for at-risk youth being held at the jail while awaiting trial had been falsifying credits and attendance for hundreds of students since 2012. He said the school granted course credits to students who didn’t attend classes, having left the jail or been moved to solitary confinement. In one instance, a student was still listed as having York even after he was released from jail and, one week later, killed.

Meanwhile, Sims, whose evaluations depend in part on attendance and course completion, touted rises in both, even though standardized test results showed little improvement.

Tom Dart

Tom Dart. | Sun-Times files

Schuler’s investigation was prompted by a February 2016 Chicago Sun-Times column by Neil Steinberg in which he wrote that after, touring York, he was told by former teachers there that “the principal pressured them to give inmates credit for classes they never finished.”

Dart says the column prompted him to write to Claypool the following month, saying he’d asked Schuler to investigate and asking the schools chief for help transitioning students back to their community schools or other alternative schools once they were released.

“I would truly appreciate your assistance with this matter,” Dart wrote, “and believe that we could increase graduation rates exponentially with further support and staffing.”

According to Smith, school officials never responded.

9-13-17 Letter (1) by Scott Fornek on Scribd