CPS principal investigated for allegedly throwing bottle at lunchroom worker, causing concussion
The accusation against Franklin Elementary Fine Arts Center Principal Kurt Jones follows other claims he throws food and chairs and has contributed to a hostile work environment at the school.
The principal at a top-rated Chicago elementary school is under investigation after he was accused of throwing a water bottle that hit a lunchroom worker in the face, giving her a concussion and requiring a wound to be closed.
The case is the most troubling incident to take place at Franklin Elementary Fine Arts Center over the past few months, but it isn’t the only one, according to several workers, teachers and parents who describe an uncomfortable and sometimes toxic environment at the school.
The principal, Kurt Jones, is still on the job, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman confirmed Thursday, two weeks after a police report was filed for the incident. Jones, 46, has not been charged with a crime and has not been publicly identified by Chicago police as the offender in the case.
“The district takes employee complaints seriously and the matter was referred to the law department for investigation immediately after learning of the incident,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in an emailed statement. She declined further comment, citing an ongoing investigation, and wouldn’t answer questions about previous complaints made against Jones by members of the school community.
Franklin’s elected Local School Council made up of parents, teachers and community members voted unanimously in January to renew Jones’ $152,330-a-year contract through June 2024, and the Board of Education approved the renewal the next month. None of the LSC’s 10 members could be reached for comment.
A Chicago police spokesman confirmed that detectives are conducting a criminal investigation into a March 20 report of a man in his mid-40s striking a 49-year-old woman in the face with a water bottle, causing a cut to her nose and above her left eye. The case is classified as simple battery, a misdemeanor, and happened on school property, according to police records. An arrest hasn’t been made in the case.
Faye Jenkins, the worker hit by the flying bottle, said she feels her complaint and injury aren’t being taken seriously. Jenkins is a woman of color and has worked in the cafeteria at Franklin for 16 years, where she and lunchroom colleague DeBrianna Harris, a witness to the incident, are two of the four lowest-paid employees in the school. She believes CPD would be treating the case differently if the roles were reversed.
“I was crying because I felt if it was the other way around, I would’ve been arrested and fired by now,” Jenkins said.
“We take every crime seriously and detectives investigate every case fully. In this case, detectives are still awaiting follow-up information from the victim and will reach out to her again,” a CPD spokeswoman said.
‘You hit me in my effing face’
Jenkins and Harris had just spent hours distributing food to families in need for the fourth straight day during the coronavirus school closures.
The duo was cleaning up the kitchen when Jones came by looking to play around, they said.
“I told him from the get-go, I wasn’t playing, I had to do my work,” Jenkins said.
Within minutes, a small girls’ shoe came flying at her. Jones, under the guise that he was being playful, had grabbed it from a bin where leftover items from a locker cleanout were discarded and threw it in her direction, Jenkins and Harris said. They have seen him previously throwing items around the school, including food, they said.
She wasn’t hit that time. Moments later, when she was at the refrigerator with her back turned to Jones, he threw a hard plastic reusable water bottle that he got from that same bin, Jenkins and Harris said.
Before Jenkins could react, the bottle hit her in the face and glasses.
“It just hit me so hard and I just went back some,” Jenkins said. “I put my hand over my face and I started yelling. I said, ‘My effing face, you hit me in my effing face.’”
She started bleeding, and at least two other workers at the school, including the security guard, said they came running in because they heard her screaming in pain. The security guard wrote a letter that day to CPS administrators saying he heard Jenkins tell Jones she wasn’t playing around, and that he rushed in when he heard her yell out.
All three workers said Jones started apologizing, but Jenkins was incredulous.
“I was just in disbelief. I couldn’t believe he had thrown an object like that at anybody,” Jenkins said.
Jones, who served as principal at Libby Elementary from 2007 to 2016, did not respond to calls, emails or messages seeking comment. Jones was a math teacher at Franklin for five years before he moved to Libby.
Harris and another worker went with Jenkins that afternoon to the 18th District police station to file a report, then to urgent care, where her wound was treated and she was diagnosed with a concussion, medical records show.
At Jenkins’ fourth follow-up appointment Friday, a doctor wrote that “due to your worsening headache, we will order a CT scan of your head,” according to medical records.
‘Next thing you know a chair comes crashing down’
The incident was just the latest in a series of concerns the school community has raised about Jones.
Some of the incidents date back more than a year, including one in December 2018 that was captured on video showing a man, identified by four people as Jones, throwing a chair over the edge of a second-floor balcony in the lunchroom.
The video shows the man ducking down before sending the chair crashing to the lower floor with a loud bang. A woman’s voice can be heard at the end of the video saying “that s--- almost hit me” as the man who threw the chair laughs.
Jenkins and Harris said they’ve seen Jones throw chairs and other items off the balcony repeatedly, claiming he is “jokingly” trying to startle the workers who are sitting at a table about 20 feet away having lunch. They acknowledged the principal doesn’t appear to be trying to hit anyone.
“We’re talking, taking a break, and next thing you know a chair comes crashing down,” Harris said. “That’s damaging CPS property. You didn’t pay for that.”
“We all finish eating lunch, we’re sitting back talking … then something will come flying over the balcony and drop to the floor and scare the daylight out of all of us,” Jenkins said.
‘He walks around like he can’t be touched’
The relationship between Jones and staffers at Franklin is “weak,” according to a University of Chicago school atmosphere survey administered yearly at all CPS schools. The “5 Essentials” survey conducted the past two school years found teacher-principal trust at Franklin at low levels: in 2018, the relationship was rated 28 out of 100, and in 2019 it was 38. An average CPS school is around 60 out of 100 for that category.
Franklin is a highly regarded, elite magnet elementary school for the arts in Old Town that draws students from across the city.
In 2018, more than a third of teachers felt they couldn’t share their feelings, worries and frustrations with the principal, and didn’t trust the principal’s word, according to the survey.
“We have a very hostile environment where people don’t know who to trust because he turns teachers on each other,” said a teacher who spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
Harris and Jenkins, the two lunchroom workers, said Jones routinely walks into the lunchroom and allegedly throws whatever he can get his hands on — food, drinks, a football or, in the latest case, a water bottle.
Harris said there have been times when Jones will walk up to the lunch line, pick up a fist full of mashed potatoes off a tray, and throw it across the kitchen. Other times he allegedly knocked over an entire tub of oatmeal, thrown apples and oranges and spilled cartons of milk — all as a “joke,” they said, leaving them to clean up the mess.
“I’m like, ‘Really?’” Harris said, “‘You’re touching the kids’ food?’
“He bullies us because he’s the principal of the school and he feels he can get away with whatever,” Harris said. “He walks around like he can’t be touched.”