CPS watchdog fielding 3 complaints of adult sex misconduct per school day

Nearly 5 percent of CPS security guards have faced complaints, the CPS inspector general said.

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Nicholas J. Schuler, Inspector general for the Chicago Public Schools

Nicholas J. Schuler, Inspector general for the Chicago Public Schools

Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

The watchdog overseeing the Chicago Public Schools has received nearly three complaints per school day since last year of sexual misconduct by adults against students.

And out of all 535 cases reported since the start of October 2018, there are 239 that are still open and under investigation with 73 “substantially complete” and another 223 closed, according to the watchdog.

Those new numbers were released Wednesday by CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler as he detailed his office’s investigative work at the Board of Education’s monthly meeting.

Among those new cases in the past year, 228 involved a teacher while 81 involved a security guard — meaning 4.7% of the district’s 1,700 security guards were the subject of an allegation.

“The numbers are very consistent as it’s turning out to be ... about three cases a day that we’re opening,” Schuler said.

Of the closed cases, investigators have substantiated 67 allegations against adults, mostly involving “concerning” behavior and not rising to the level of sexual abuse or assault. Seven substantiated cases involved a sexual act or abuse and another 12 were about improper touching that was deemed less than sexual abuse.

As a result of those substantiated cases, 57 adults were fired, resigned or retired after the completion of the investigations while another 96 have been pulled from their job while the inspector general examines the cases. Seventeen cases have involved police and criminal prosecution.

While reporting has been consistent over the past year, it has gone up from previous years — a change the district attributes to better education and training that helps everyone in schools better identify troubling behavior.

Schuler’s office first received full authority over all CPS sexual abuse cases involving adults in June 2018 after the Chicago Tribune’s “Betrayed” series uncovered the district’s widespread and serious mishandling of students’ reports of sexual abuse.

Since then, the inspector general’s office has received hundreds of new reports of abuse while it carries out its usual duties and figures out how to reexamine old cases.

Schuler’s office started last school year with 23 full-time employees and ended with 34. To help manage the workload, the district this year budgeted an extra $3.5 million and 15 additional employees in the office who will be on a new sexual investigations team.

“The investigators tend to have pretty high caseloads, and we’re trying to close them,” Schuler said. “We want to investigate them all as well as we can and do the right thing.”

While Schuler said he doesn’t think the office needs more help right now, he “won’t be shy” about asking for more resources if that need is identified going forward.

Still, the office doesn’t have the capacity to look back at nearly 1,000 old cases since the year 2000.

So in February, Schuler, with the school board’s approval, hired global law firm Dentons LLP on a $250,000 contract to reexamine half of those old cases, according to school board records.

On Wednesday, Schuler hired another firm, Alvarez & Marsal, on a $550,000 agreement to help review the rest of the cases. A contract with the firm is still being negotiated but would start Dec. 1 and go through next October.

Alvarez & Marsal is a well-known global firm that specializes in performance improvement and turnaround management and offers investigations as one of its services to a large portfolio of major companies and governments. Among those working at the firm’s Chicago office is Anita Alvarez, the embattled former Cook County state’s attorney, who was hired as a managing director in April to oversee corruption, financial fraud and violent crimes investigations.

Alvarez & Marsal’s attorneys will review the investigative files of cases involving CPS employees and dating back to 2000 to “assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of the prior investigations,” school board records show. The attorneys will give Schuler’s office monthly progress reports on their findings and identify areas of concern that warrant another look or some corrective actions.

Alvarez & Marsal’s work — and Dentons’ — isn’t the first time the district’s handling of sexual abuse cases is reviewed.

Earlier this year, CPS agreed to a “substantial overhaul” of how it handles sexual violence and harassment cases after a federal investigation found “glaring and heartbreaking” problems in the district. At the end of that review, federal officials at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found “widespread and systemic” mishandling of thousands of incidents dating back to 2012.

Another report by former state inspector general and ex-assistant United States Attorney Maggie Hickey also found problems with CPS’ handling of cases but credited the district for changes already made, including the formation of a new Office of Student Protections and Title IX.

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