CPS rips inspector’s report, reinstates Cook Co. Jail school principal

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Sharnette Sims | York Alternative High School

Chicago Public Schools officials have reinstated the principal accused by the district’s top watchdog of falsifying student data at the alternative high school she runs inside Cook County Jail.

In the latest butting of heads between CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Inspector General Nicholas Schuler, the district announced Sharnette Sims will return to the helm of York Alternative High School at 2700 S. California Ave. on Thursday — less than two months after she was banned from the jail amid Schuler’s findings that the principal faked student attendance and credits to boost the school’s reputation.

The district also released its own report lambasting the scathing audit that Schuler submitted to the Chicago Board of Education in June and made public in September, with CPS lawyers dismissing the inspector’s report as “unsubstantiated and unfounded.”

“Principal Sims is owed our thanks for her efforts at York, as well as a sincere apology for the blight on her reputation,” Claypool said in a statement.

Schuler, who said he was provided with CPS’ report late in the day on Wednesday, and had not had time to fully review it, stood by the findings of his office’s yearlong investigation. He said it was “unprecedented” for CPS officials to counter an inspector general’s investigation with their own probe.

A student prepares materials in the art classroom at Consuella B. York Alternative High School within the Cook County Jail in January 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A student prepares materials in the art classroom at Consuella B. York Alternative High School within the Cook County Jail in January 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“In the past, the Law Department simply contacted the [inspector general’s office] with minor questions that might need clarification,” Schuler said in an email. “They have never released a public report attacking an investigation by my office or, to my knowledge, any other CPS Inspector General.”

CPS released their lawyers’ findings in the form of a memo to CPS general counsel Ronald Marmer — little more than a week after Schuler questioned Claypool as part of an ethics investigation into a contract between the Board of Education and a law firm paying Marmer a seven-figure severance package.

Schuler called the timing of Thursday’s announcement “peculiar.”

While acknowledging that York’s jailhouse environment does “not allow it to neatly input” student data, the report released by CPS claims Schuler’s team didn’t interview key administrators and focused on “anecdotal hearsay statements” from former teachers, and biased testimony from teachers who had been disciplined by Sims.

The CPS report also claims there was a “racial element” to Schuler’s investigation, saying most of the teachers interviewed were white, while 70 percent of the school’s teachers are black.

“We followed the evidence where it led. Race played no part in our investigation,” Schuler said. “Based on my quick review of the CPS memorandum, it appears that it is fraught with misstatements and problems.”

Schuler’s most explosive allegation cited the case of a student who, despite his release from jail and subsequent shooting death a week later, was still listed as attending class. The report released by CPS contends that the inspector’s report “sensationalizes” that case, dismissing the situation as a clerical error.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who banned Sims from the jail after Schuler’s audit went public, met with Claypool last week and was satisfied with CPS’ findings, according to Cara Smith, Dart’s chief policy officer.

“We are glad to have [Sims] back with us, to begin putting this matter behind us and to work with CPS to provide the best education possible,” Smith said.

Schuler launched his investigation after a February 2016 Chicago Sun-Times column in which former teachers told writer Neil Steinberg that they were pressured to give inmates credit for classes they didn’t attend.

CPS memo on inspector general’s York Alternative High School investigation by Mitch Armentrout on Scribd

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