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13 adults at CPS school accused of sexual misconduct or covering it up

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said Friday there was a “culture of behavior” at Marine Leadership Academy that is “not tolerated by our district.”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez
Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Chicago Public Schools inspector general has substantiated allegations against 13 adults at the Marine Leadership Academy for either committing or covering up sexual misconduct dating back more than two years, district officials revealed Friday.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a news conference at the district’s downtown headquarters that he only found out about the investigation late last month. He also said other central office officials did not previously know the widespread nature of the allegations, but the inspector general later refuted that.

Martinez told reporters there was a “culture of behavior and distrust that occurred at Marine Leadership Academy that is not tolerated by our district.” Martinez and Pratt would not say the exact number of student victims, only that it was fewer than a dozen.

One allegation involved a teacher having a sexual relationship with a student who had turned 18, Martinez said. He said he would lobby Illinois lawmakers to make it illegal for school workers to have sex with students no matter their age.

Another case had to do with a teacher grooming a student then having sex after that student graduated. The district defines grooming as an adult breaking down a student’s inhibitions for the purpose of sex. In one of those two cases, the investigation uncovered texts from a teacher to a student saying, “I can’t wait until you turn 18,” Martinez said.

Both teachers were pulled from the school in 2019 when the inspector general began investigating.

Yet despite the ongoing investigation, the former principal of the Logan Square school, Erin Galfer, was promoted to a district administrator position this June. She had been accused of failing to report misconduct, allegations that were eventually substantiated, and has since been fired, Martinez said.

CPS’ Title IX coordinator Camie Pratt said “the district wasn’t made aware from the inspector general’s office until just recently on Oct. 20, the nature of all the allegations. And so we weren’t aware until then, and that’s when we took action.”

But Will Fletcher, the district’s inspector general, said his office consistently updated CPS officials about the investigation.

“From the start of its investigation in 2019, the [Office of Inspector General] has communicated with CPS and other agencies about allegations and evidence that may have impacted student safety, including allegations of failure to report by the school principal and other top MLA administration members,” Fletcher said in a statement.

“Since April 2019, the OIG has contacted DCFS more than 20 times related to this matter. OIG also worked collaboratively with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) on allegations that the department investigated.”

It’s common practice for the inspector general’s office to inform district officials and the Law Department during an investigation of any new allegations or details that would warrant the removal of an employee. The inspector general took over all adult-on-student sexual misconduct investigations in 2019 after a Chicago Tribune series detailed the district’s widespread mishandling of cases.

CPS’ Law Department and its Office of Student Protections and Title IX are also the ones that remove employees from their schools for misconduct allegations — the inspector general doesn’t have that power and can only recommend removal. District officials and attorneys removed several employees from Marine Leadership Academy between early 2019 and summer 2021.

Galfer’s attorney, Jonathan Karmel, said later Friday that CPS “falsely stated that our client ... failed to report the sexual misconduct” at Marine Leadership Academy.

“Notwithstanding Mr. Martinez’s attempt to create a false narrative, the tragic failure at Marine falls directly at the feet of CPS who long knew about the misconduct and did not take timely steps to protect the students,” Karmel said in a statement.

“Instead, Erin was wrongly terminated and looks forward to restoring her reputation and, more importantly, holding CPS responsible for its endemic failures to protect CPS students.”

Fletcher’s office released a summary of its findings Friday evening.

Two other instances of misconduct involved grooming and sexual harassment of students by a staff member and a volunteer. The rest of the adults who have now been removed and either already fired or face firing were found to have failed to report misconduct.

“The behavior uncovered by this investigation represents a stunning betrayal of trust and colossal failure of judgement and character on the part of far too many individuals,” the schools chief said.