As a Chicago Public Schools principal awaits discipline for allegedly hitting a school lunchroom worker in the face with a water bottle, concerned parents are questioning whether he should stay on the job.
Nearly two months after the lunchroom manager suffered a concussion and filed a police report about the incident, Franklin Elementary Fine Arts Center Principal Kurt Jones was still on the job Wednesday when he proposed a new school budget for the next academic year during an online meeting of Franklin’s elected Local School Council.
CPS started its disciplinary process for Jones this week after an investigation by the district’s Law Department. The police investigation is ongoing; he has not been charged with a crime.
If it was up to Rashid Carter, a parent at the school and former chair of the LSC, Jones would be fired. Even if the principal’s account of the incident is to be believed — Jones filed a report saying the worker was hurt during a “game of dodgeball” — it still shows inappropriate behavior for a school leader, Carter said during the public comment portion of the LSC meeting as Jones listened on without responding.
“This means he condoned a reckless and violent game that endangered his staff’s safety during work hours, which ultimately resulted in one of them being significantly injured,” Carter said. “This alone should be grounds for dismissal.”
Stephanie Cunningham, a mother of a fourth grader at Franklin, said she was “very concerned” about the allegations against Jones, especially a 2018 video that surfaced this January of a man identified as Jones throwing a chair over a second-floor balcony in the school cafeteria. Jones was given a warning by the district for the incident.
“What if a student walked in during one of his ‘just playing’ antics and got hurt?” she asked.
The LSC itself has come under question after it voted unanimously this winter to renew Jones’ $152,330-a-year contract through June 2024. The renewal came months before the bottle-throwing incident but after concerns about his behavior and demeanor were raised.
Suzy Rose, a Franklin parent and chair of the LSC, said the council could only act on the information available at the time, including a school survey that went out in November and returned only 20% participation with both positive and negative views of Jones. Another parent, though, noted teachers would be reluctant to openly share concerns about their boss and pointed to a different survey that was anonymous and included less favorable opinions.
Erin Galfer, a Franklin parent and the principal at CPS’ Marine Leadership Academy in Logan Square, said she needed to “speak on the positive side of what Mr. Jones has done for us as a community,” and praised Jones for his “students-first way” of prioritizing kids, then teachers, then parents.
“I can tell you if that is your process for priorities, everything else will follow,” Galfer said. “Again, it’s not something that parents want to hear, but it is what’s best for our school.”
Special ed parent raises concerns
But Ayerim Duenas said at the meeting that she was one of the parents who responded to the survey with criticism of the principal and feels “very afraid of my daughter being in the same building with him.”
Duenas separately said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times that she felt belittled by Jones when he allegedly scolded her after her daughter was late to school during her first week at Franklin in September 2018. Duenas said she told him the bus didn’t show up.
“He said, ‘Me and my husband both work and we find a way to get our child to school every day, so those are just excuses,’” Duenas said. She also accused Jones of telling her in a phone conversation that her daughter didn’t “deserve transportation,” which is required by her Individualized Education Program, a plan developed for students who receive special education. Jones in a later email to Duenas strongly denied saying that and refuted Duenas’ other claims of mistreatment.
Before enrolling her daughter at Franklin, Duenas said she saw Jones at an open house for prospective parents in the summer of 2018 and asked whether certain special education services were provided at the school.
“He said, ‘Yes, but this school might not be good for your child,’” she alleged. “The problem with that is he didn’t know my daughter’s IEP, he didn’t know what services were in there, and he was making broad assumptions. ... That could’ve scared a special education parent away.”
Jones didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday. But in one email exchange with Duenas in November, he praised her daughter as “a true joy in every way at Franklin. ... We know she’s going to continue to Fly High as we are driven by her needs, her abilities, and allow her to soar.”