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EDITORIAL: What’s to be done when a dead man gets class credit?

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

A high school diploma is worth something, unless you never actually attended class, which can happen if you’re dead.

Bizarre as that sounds, it apparently happened at least once at the Chicago Public school run inside the Cook County Jail. A student was recorded as attending classes though he had been released from the jail earlier and had died.


And that’s just the strangest case of alleged fraud and failure within the school, according to a report by CPS’ inspector general. The school routinely granted attendance and course credits to students who already had left the jail or been moved to solitary confinement, where they could not attend classes. “Actual student learning,” according to the report, was “minimal.”

But you know what’s equally bad? Inspector General Nicholas Schuler handed this explosive report to CPS officials back in June — at least 2 1/2 months ago — yet nothing has been done about it. The principal that Schuler recommended be dismissed, Sharnette Sims, is still on the job, and CPS officials say they are still “reviewing” Schuler’s finding.

On Wednesday, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart took matters into his own hands, banning Sims from the jail.

Sims should have been helping inmates turn their lives around. We are convinced that education — the real kind, where students actually learn — is at the heart of turning lives around. So it is particularly offensive when a school in a jail, which has the potential to offer a new start in life, is nothing but — in Schuler’s words — “a credit mill.”

“We agree having a diploma would be great, Schuler told Sun-Times reporter Lauren Fitzpatrick, but “giving them credit for when they were in solitary confinement, that’s disingenuous. That isn’t real help. You’re depriving them of the benefit of an education.”

Maybe here is where we should note that Principal Sims’ evaluation by CPS is based in part on her school’s attendance record.

If CPS officials thinks Schuler’s report is flawed, they should say so. Otherwise, fix the problem. Lives and futures are on the line.

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