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CPS CEO says parents wrong to paint fired Lincoln Park H.S. leaders as victims

Angry parents from the school protested the dismissal of John Thuet and Michelle Brumfield at a meeting of the Board of Education Wednesday.

Lincoln Park High School parents line up to speak at the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education meeting Wednesday.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson said Wednesday that the parents protesting the firing of top administrators at Lincoln Park High School are painting those adults as victims while overlooking the impact on students.

Jackson’s pointed and heated comments at Wednesday’s school board meeting were her first on the Lincoln Park scandal, and came just minutes before two dozen parents lined up to defend the two administrators and called their firing a “decapitation” of the school.

Jackson, who didn’t mention Lincoln Park or the administrators by name in her remarks, said CPS’ commitment to correcting years of mishandled sexual abuse cases “is being tested” by the protests, and reiterated that her priority is protecting students.

CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times
CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

”You will hear remarks today that will try to convince you that the victims are individuals other than the students whose lives have been altered for the rest of their lives,” Jackson said.

“I know that these situations are further complicated when they’re people who are well liked, or have even done good work on behalf of the district,” she continued. “But let us be clear that past performance and a pleasant personality is not a defense to inaction in a particular situation.”

The nearly 30 Lincoln Park supporters in attendance let out groans and shook their heads during Jackson’s comments, with some later saying she should step down because of their unhappiness with how CPS handled the allegations at the school, which have led to five investigations.

The problems started after what CPS officials said was an unauthorized boys basketball team trip to Detroit at the end of December. The coach of the team has since been suspended, as has the remainder of the team’s season. Later other allegations surfaced regarding the girls basketball team. And a police report was generated and a civil lawsuit filed after an alleged sexual assault involving two students.

Former Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield have denied allegations that they minimized sexual misconduct reports and didn’t protect whistleblowers and victims from bullying and retaliation; withheld key evidence from investigators; and lied to families about the status of investigations.

CPS ‘destroyed our dreams’

The angry parents — and one student — made up nearly half the board meeting’s public speaker list and took more than 40 minutes to defend Thuet and Brumfield.

Charles Jackson, a senior at Lincoln Park who played on the basketball team, said CPS “destroyed our dreams” and poured “four years of hard work down the drain” by suspending the team’s season.

”Nobody, no adult has yet to tell us why our season was canceled,” he said. “Why did you have to penalize us, the kids? ... We come to you so you can look at us in our face and explain to us why you have killed our dreams.”

Charles Jackson called the suspended coach, Pat Gordon, a “strong disciplinarian” who was a mentor to students and encouraged them to keep up their grades and graduate.

Daniel Gahan, a parent of a junior at Lincoln Park, said “it’s hard for us to trust the process when we’re being told that an ongoing investigation is happening yet at the same time we’re told in writing, and I quote, ‘These people are never coming back.’”

“To me that feels very much like judge, jury and executioner,” Gahan said. “None of us would for a second put the needs of these adults, these administrators, above the children. However, I think finding easy scapegoats doesn’t undo what happened. It’s not going to provide any lessons learned.”

The Lincoln Park supporters repeatedly went over the strict two-minute time limit in the meeting’s public speaking portion, with board president Miguel del Valle asking those who took extra time to follow the rules. In the past, speakers have been escorted out by security for not cooperating with those rules.

Former Lincoln Park High School Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield
LinkedIn; CPS

On Tuesday, Thuet and Brumfield filed a lawsuit in federal court denying they did anything wrong and accusing CPS officials of making false statements about them. They want to be removed from a CPS “do not hire” list that they say makes it virtually impossible for them to get new jobs.

Also Tuesday, the high school’s elected Local School Council sent a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Jackson requesting an independent investigation into the situation, saying members didn’t trust the investigations that had been done by the district to date.