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Multiple allegations of sex misconduct, other wrongdoing led to removals at Lincoln Park H.S., basketball season suspension, CPS says

Students staged a walkout to protest the actions by CPS, which officials detailed Monday night.

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, Monday morning, Feb. 3, 2020. CPS also suspended the varsity boys’ basketball team for the rest of the season.
Students stage a protest walkout Feb. 3, 2020, after Chicago Public Schools removed the interim principal John Thuet and assistant principal Michelle Brumfield.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The allegations that led to the ouster of top administrators at Lincoln Park High School and the suspension of the remainder of the boys basketball season last week included multiple instances of sexual misconduct, retaliation against witnesses, lying to families and financial mismanagement of the athletics program, Chicago Public Schools officials said at a meeting at the school Monday night.

CPS Chief Schools Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova told a packed school auditorium that students had been harmed “physically” and “emotionally.”

The decision to remove the school leadership is “irreversible,” said Chkoumbova.

“There are allegations of both adult-on-student sexual misconduct as well as student on student,” Deb Spraggins, director of investigations for the Office of Student Protections, said.

But Marybeth Jones, a member of the local school council, said members of the school’s governing body were “shocked” and blindsided” by the removals.

“It would be unconscionable for CPS to decapitate the most student focused, faculty focused, safety focused and community dedicated administration it has had in anyone’s memory,” she said.

In a presentation shown at the meeting, CPS laid out in broad terms the allegations that have prompted four distinct investigations by the CPS Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP) and the CPS Office of Inspector General.

The presentation did not provide extensive details of the incidents or allege who was specifically involved. Chkoumbova said additional details would not be immediately forthcoming as the investigations continued.

The allegations also include:

  • Failure to follow mandatory sexual misconduct reporting procedures
  • Repeated and ongoing retaliation against witnesses and complainants
  • Improper student discipline
  • Interference with an official investigation by school leadership and staff
  • Withholding evidence from investigative bodies
  • Improper evidence gathering and retraumatizing interviews of students
  • Dishonesty to families
  • Allowing suspended employees to continue to work
  • Athletic recruiting violations
  • Financial misconduct with respect to athletics’ program accounts

Probes began in early January

The series of events started Jan. 2 when the OSP received a report of misconduct involving the Lincoln Park boys’ basketball team on a trip to Detroit near the end of December. Five days later, the district found allegations of “additional serious policy violations,” according to the presentation. That’s when Lions basketball coach Pat Gordon was suspended by CPS.

The district at that time was investigating claims about students having sex in Detroit, social media being involved and that Gordon knew about it, the Sun-Times previously reported. Gordon, who denied knowledge of the alleged incident in Detroit, has not been accused of improper contact with a student.

As the investigation continued, CPS days later found “greater systemic policy violations by adults,” though the presentation doesn’t clarify what those included.

Alleged assault in the school

Investigators on Jan. 14 learned of a new, separate complaint of alleged sexual misconduct, the presentation says. A CPS source said that involved a female and male student inside a classroom and was unrelated to the basketball team.

Two days later CPS found a case of “student-on-student retaliation previously reported to school leadership that was not properly reported to ensure student safety,” the presentation says. Those findings prompted the opening of two new investigations.

On Jan. 17, the Inspector General’s office received another report of alleged sexual misconduct involving the girls’ basketball team and launched a fourth investigation. The IG’s office on Jan. 24 requested the removal of an unidentified adult related to the girls’ basketball team investigation.

Later that week, the district “was made aware of additional systemic school-wide issues regarding misconduct and sports,” according to the presentation. That’s when CPS decided to remove Interim Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield while reassigning a dean and interim basketball coach Donovan Robinson.

The reminder of the boys basketball season was suspended “due to the severity of the allegations and the adverse culture that was created,” the presentation states.

Team culture defended

Gordon on Monday denied the team culture was a problem and said the complaints are from disgruntled people.

“Our culture is better than any other program in the city,” he said.

“Does this mean anyone can say anything and [CPS] is going to suspend the coach? ... Some of the stuff I’m hearing is about bullying and favoritism. Every coach has favoritism. We favor the kids that work hard and are committed to the program.”

Robinson said the response by CPS has been too severe, especially because the team had been slated to appear in the Public League playoffs on Tuesday.

“The players should be able to play in the city playoffs and not be punished for something they continue to say isn’t true,” he said. ”This shows us that the district hasn’t moved fully with restorative justice. They reacted with harsh discipline without factual evidence.”

Neither Thuet nor Brumfield could be reached for comment.

Ella Wong (center), a student at Lincoln Park High School, leads a march around the block after hundreds of students walked out of class in protest, Monday morning, Feb. 3, 2020. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

LSC surprised

Parents teachers and students expressed frustration during the public meeting Monday night at the school’s auditorium that at times became raucous.

Jones, who is also a parent, said, “LSC members are appalled of the characterization of these three individuals taking place in the local media as a result of this action and CPS’ opaque explanation of the move,” she said, referring to the removal of the principal, assistant principal and dean.

Chkoumbova, responding to the concerns raised at the meeting, said: “I really hear how passionately many of you spoke of your experience working with the administration here at this school, I also want to let you know that these ... are not decisions that are taken lightly. If there is no evidence or the investigations are not concluding that this is the next right move, CPS would not have done this.”

Added CPS Security Chief Jadine Chou: “Believe me, I wish we could give you more info but unfortunately we can’t.”

Student walkout

Before some of the allegations were outlined later Monday, about 300 Lincoln Park High School students walked out of class in the morning, demanding the reinstatement of Theutt and Brumfield — as well as the resumption of the basketball season.

“This is all we know,” said Romelle Howard, co-captain of the basketball team. “We worked too hard to come this far just for our season to end. It’s pretty messed up.”

Several members of the basketball team said Monday that some of the claimed misconduct was nothing more than a made-up rumor.

Ismail Habib, who is also a basketball team co-captain, said he’s worried about the impact of the suspended season on some of his teammates.

“CPS says they care, they care about our health. But this is injuring us,” Habib said. “We might stop going to school because of this, because basketball is the thing that makes us go.”

Several students taking part in the walkout said the issue was much broader than the fate of the basketball season. Those students demanded the return to school of Thuet and Brumfield.

“We’ve always had a reputation of our school being, like, druggie — all these bad connotations about our school — but they made it so much better in the last semester that they’ve been here,” said Grace Kibbey, 16, a cheerleader.

‘No one knows what happened’

The walkout lasted about an hour and involved students circling the school, chanting and holding aloft signs in support of the team and the missing school administrators.

Christy Bauhs, a parent with two kids at Lincoln Park, said she gets “choked up” thinking Thuet and Brumfield are no longer at the school.

“In the short time they’ve been here, they’ve completely changed the atmosphere of the school. Thuet is amazing,” Bauhs said.

She said she’s upset at the lack of transparency from CPS.

“No one knows what happened — that’s why everyone is freaking out,” Bauhs said. “The [lack of] communication is making it worse. If they would just tell us exactly what happened, then maybe we’d be like, ‘Oh, OK.’”