Dysfunctional, divisive environment at Marine Academy led to unreported sex misconduct, rule violations: watchdog
The Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general found a “dysfunctional and divisive” environment at the school contributed to a lack of accountability.
A teacher commented about the size of condom a student would need. A board of governor’s member repeatedly grabbed meals and went for walks with students in violation of district rules. Military personnel texted students and denied doing so until shown phone records.
And several other adults in positions of power either failed to report misconduct or, in the case of a top military schools official, felt allegations were “not [his] concern.”
That’s all according to the latest report released by the Chicago Public Schools inspector general in the watchdog’s sprawling investigation of dozens of allegations at Marine Leadership Academy, a school for 7-12 graders in Logan Square that was thrust into the spotlight last month when the investigation’s first details went public.
In that round of revelations, officials said 13 adults at the school had either been found to have committed sexual misconduct or covered it up, and all were fired or were in the process of being dismissed. That included the former principal, Erin Galfer, who had been promoted to a position in the district’s central office.
Questioned about Galfer’s promotion, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez — who was hired after the promotion — and Title IX Director Camie Pratt said district officials didn’t know the depth of the investigation until last month. But Inspector General Will Fletcher refuted that claim, and a WBEZ/Sun-Times report showed the district knew for years about the allegations at the school.
On Thursday, Fletcher’s office released its last few investigative findings, writing in a summary report that school administrators at Marine Leadership Academy fostered a “dysfunctional and divisive” environment where staff, and military personnel in particular, didn’t feel a need to follow rules or report wrongdoing.
Though these latest instances of misconduct largely weren’t sexual in nature, they violated district policies put in place two years ago to protect students from contact with adults that could lead to sexual abuse.
In one case, a school board of governors member volunteered as a student mentor but was blocked from further work at the school after allegations he had numerous one-on-one interactions with students outside the school. That included calling and texting kids, taking students for meals and going for walks with them. The initial allegations raised concerns that the board member was grooming the children for sex. But he was never accused of sexual abuse, and the investigation didn’t substantiate any grooming.
The case was still troubling, however, because Galfer never had the board member go through fingerprinting or a background check, the inspector general said.
“It is concerning that a volunteer was given so much access to students without having completed a background check,” the report concluded. Galfer was the one who initially reported the board member’s texts as potential grooming, but she failed to report the other violations, and a counselor failed to report the texting, the IG’s office said.
Galfer “contributed to a dysfunctional and divisive environment, which played a role in whether MLA staff members reported violations of CPS policies at all and how the reporting was handled (or mishandled),” the report read.
Galfer’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other misconduct newly revealed in Thursday’s report included a teacher’s comment about a student’s condom size, and several other staff members texting with students.
Notably, investigators also found “issues with the retired uniformed marines who were military instructors at MLA, as well as failures by CPS military education leaders in oversight over those military instructors.”
Military staff were responsible for a majority of improper communications between staff and students, the IG’s office found. Yet military staff denied communicating with students by text or phone until they were confronted with phone records.
And when the IG’s office interviewed CPS’ director for military instruction, he said it was “not [his] business to dig into” why members of the school’s military staff were suspended from their jobs, the report said. When asked why he didn’t ask for updates on the investigation, he told investigators the allegations were “not [his] concern.”
CPS’ current director of military instruction didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Of the original 13 adults involved, CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the volunteer has been removed, one employee has resigned, seven are in the process of being fired, and four others are in the disciplinary process. One additional employee who wasn’t among the original group in last month’s report has also been fired, she said.
“CPS has zero tolerance for perpetrators of inappropriate relationships and abuse and complicit non-reporters who do nothing to stop such behavior,” Fergus said. “We appreciate the dedicated and thorough team at the Office of the Inspector General for their work to undertake this comprehensive investigation.”