CPS sex abuse scandal decades in the making

SHARE CPS sex abuse scandal decades in the making

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson is vowing to fix the child sex abuse problem. | Sun-Times file photo

It is big of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to apologize for the sexual violence endured by hundreds of CPS students at the hands of school employees.

But this systemic failure isn’t Emanuel’s to bear alone.

lhere were the mandated reporters, the hall monitors and teachers with eyes in the back of their heads?

And when victims had the courage to come forward, where were the shoulders they could lean on?


The abuses, uncovered by the Tribune, are enough to make us all weep.

They include allegations that a renowned choral director and chair of the music department at the Payton College Prep music teacher engaged in sex with a student over a five-year-period, and that a track coach at Simeon High School raped a student 40 times.

In many of these instances, authorities failed to protect students by reporting the abuse as mandated by Illinois law, or by allowing the predator to abruptly resign.

“I take responsibility … I’m accountable,” Emanuel told the Sun-Times, noting the abuses go back “10 years” and probably “further than that.”

He’s right about that.

As egregious as these latest allegations are, they pale in comparison to what happened to a group of boys at James Weldon Johnson Elementary School in North Lawndale more than 20 years ago.

The fifth- and sixth-graders were participants in the now disbanded “United Airlines Believers Mentoring Program” that was supposed to have provided disadvantaged students with college scholarships.

But instead of getting scholarships, the boys were sexually abused by Marvin Lovett, a man who ran the program at the Chicago Public School.

In a revelatory twist, Lovett was fatally shot in his North Lawndale apartment in 2000 by then 17-year-old Sylvester Jamison.

The youth told police he had been involved in a sexual relationship with Lovett since he was 12.

During the murder investigation, police discovered 140 tapes in Lovett’s apartment depicting sexual acts involving underage boys in the Believers program.

At that time, I couldn’t get a straight answer out of CPS officials about how something so horrific could happen without anyone having a clue.

And the silence from the community about what happened to Jamison was deafening.

Nineteen men subsequently settled a civil suit against United Airlines, I Have A Dream Foundation — the nonprofit that was supposed to operate the scholarship program — and the Board of Education.

The suit alleged, among other things, that the entities failed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct toward Believers Program participants.

The lawsuit also accused the Board of Education of hiring Lovett to perform work in the Believers Program when it knew or should have known that Lovett was terminated from Lathrop Elementary School for engaging in sexually inappropriate conduct toward minors.

The Board of Education failed to report allegations of sexual abuse of children to the proper authorities, the suit alleged.

“After two years of discovery and an extensive investigation, I can say unequivocally that everybody in the situation dropped the ball a million times,” said Lyndsay Markley, the attorney for the 19 plaintiffs.

What happened at James Weldon Johnson should have been a wake-up call for CPS.

But it wasn’t.

Now, CEO Janice Jackson is vowing to fix the problem by spending $500,000 to have the legal powerhouse, Schiff Hardin LLP, and a former state inspector general, to review “all practices, policies, and procedures for addressing instances of alleged sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse.”

She should save the money and get to the bottom of why teachers and school employees aren’t enforcing policies and procedures already in place to protect children from predators.

Are they trying to cover-up crime because they don’t want their school to look bad?

Are they unclear about the policies?

Are they afraid to speak up?

Because there were plenty of red flags that should have warned CPS employees that Lovett was up to no good, including complaints from parents.

Those complaints were ignored just as they were in some of the cases exposed in the Tribune report.

When teachers and school employees fail to report inappropriate sexual conduct toward students, it is not just the mayor’s problem.

It is ours.

Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a podcast on race relations called “Zebra Sisters.” Check out the first season on iTunes and Google Play Music — or find individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ Zebra Sisters page. Email Mary and Leslie at zebrasisters@suntimes.com or suggest topics for season two by calling the Zebra Hotline: (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).

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