CPS had no choice but to crack down amid mess at Lincoln Park High

The district had no alternative to removing top school leaders and coaches, given multiple allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

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Students stage a protest walkout after Chicago Public Schools fired the interim principal John Thuet and assistant principal Michelle Brumfield, and re-assigned the boys basketball coach Donovan Robinson, due to misconduct allegations at Lincoln Park High School,

Students stage a protest walkout after Chicago Public Schools fired two administrators and re-assigned the boys basketball coach due to misconduct allegations at Lincoln Park High School.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools made the entirely right call in its hard-line response to a burgeoning scandal at Lincoln Park High School.

The district, in our view, had no choice but to remove top school leaders and coaches at the North Side school, given the gravity of the allegations, as reported by the Sun-Times.

Some 300 students walked out Monday to protest the removals and the suspension of the boys basketball program, which was on the cusp of the city playoffs.

But there was no acceptable alternative to swift and decisive action if school leaders — whose first job is to protect every student — did indeed turn a blind eye to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including misconduct involving students and adults.

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A long list of other serious allegations has now come to light, as well, and if even half of them hold up under investigation, Lincoln Park High is in a serious mess.

CPS officials last week removed Interim Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield, suspended the boys basketball program and reassigned interim basketball coach Donovan Robinson.

Meanwhile, head basketball coach Pat Gordon already had been suspended, amid allegations that he knew about sexual activity by a student on an out-of-town team trip to Detroit in December. (Gordon himself is not accused of any improper contact with a student.) Gordon has denied any wrongdoing.

The list of allegations was unveiled to the Lincoln Park school community at a packed meeting Monday night. And as CPS Chief Schools Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova told the audience, more than one student was harmed “physically” and “emotionally.”

Reading the list, it’s clear why investigations by the Office of Student Protections and Title IX and the Office of Inspector General are warranted. CPS also has notified the police “where it is appropriate,” a district spokesperson told us.

The allegations include:

  • Repeated and ongoing retaliation against witnesses and complainants.
  • Interference with an official investigation by school leadership and staff.
  • Withholding evidence from investigative bodies.
  • Improper student discipline.
  • Improper evidence gathering and re-traumatizing interviews of students.
  • Allowing suspended employees to continue to work.
  • Financial misconduct with respect to athletic program accounts

That’s only part of it. Some of the allegations do not involve the basketball team.

If there’s any doubt CPS did the right thing, consider the alternative: CPS, with the same evidence in hand, maintains the status quo while a quiet investigation is carried out under the radar.

What a message that would send: That the district puts greater value on appearances and not rocking the boat than on protecting students’ safety and emotional well-being.

In the end, CPS has no margin for error, given its history of mishandling reports of sexual abuse and misconduct.

We feel for the basketball players who had nothing to do with any of this but are paying a price. Their season is possibly over, and that’s unfortunate. But a basketball game is a basketball game. CPS suspended the program “due to the severity of the allegations and the adverse culture that was created.”

We feel, too, for the students who had forged a bond with school leaders who, it now appears, let them down. Members of the local school council, too, were “shocked” and “blindsided” by the ousters, one LSC member told the Sun-Times.

But as a CPS spokesperson told us, “Why would we take these actions if we didn’t think they were absolutely necessary to keep students safe?”

To be clear: None of the allegations has yet been proven. The public won’t know the full truth until the investigations are complete.

In the end, we hope every student will come to know and appreciate this:

Chicago school officials at the highest level, at least in this instance, have made student safety their highest priority — and they will hold other adults accountable who fail to protect it.

That’s one of those good lessons for all of life.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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