An elementary school cafeteria worker said she suffered persistent headaches for months and was eventually diagnosed with a brain aneurysm after her ex-principal, who faces a criminal trial next month, threw a water bottle at her head last spring.
The Chicago Public Schools lunchroom manager is now suing over her injuries, accusing the school district of failing to protect her from the former principal despite a series of past misconduct complaints.
Kurt Jones, the former leader of Franklin Fine Arts Center in Old Town, was charged with a felony last June, three months after the incident that left cafeteria worker Faye Jenkins with a bloody cut above her eye.
During the first week of pandemic school closures in March 2020, Jenkins and other workers were cleaning up after their meal distribution program wrapped for the day when Jones — who later said he and the staff was “horsing around” and “playing dodgeball” — threw a hard, reusable plastic water bottle at Jenkins, striking her in the face.
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported details of the incident as well as several additional allegations that Jones had created a toxic environment for parents, students and staff.
Given these previous complaints, the school district “knew, or reasonably should have known, that [Jones] was demonstrating a pattern of inappropriate and improper conduct towards both his students and employees,” Jenkins alleged in a nine-page, four-count complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court last month against Jones, CPS and the Board of Education.
Schools officials “did nothing to thwart his behavior or otherwise investigate its nature prior to the aforementioned battery,” the suit said, accusing the district of “a willful and conscious decision to ignore ongoing complaints and allegations.”
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary relief, accused Jones and CPS — as his employer at the time — of battery, and the school district of failing to remove him from his position based on previous allegations before Jenkins was hurt.
Jenkins said in an interview she’s “not sure, basically, if I’ll ever be 100% again.” She hasn’t been back to work since last spring because of her nagging headaches and concussion, and in January Jenkins underwent surgery for her aneurysm, she said.
“I miss work. I’ve been working at that school for 17 years. I just feel this is something that should never have happened,” Jenkins said. “The kids were who I was there for. I miss Franklin, I really miss being there because it was about the kids.”
Jenkins’ attorney, Peter Tarpey, said he’s seen “a lot of egregious conduct” in his 30 years as a civil trial lawyer but was surprised to read the “outrageous” allegations against Jones when he took the case.
“At first, I thought this has got to be a joke,” Tarpey said. “It was so shocking to see that any adult, let alone a principal, would be acting like this at the school, during school hours, with teachers who he’s basically their supervisor and with children who he’s hired to oversee.”
Jones and his attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment. Jones’ criminal case is set for a bench trial May 6. He faces a felony charge of aggravated battery of a school employee.
Jones files own suit
Jones filed his own lawsuit against CPS in August 2020, accusing the district of breaching his contract, violating his due process rights and wrongfully terminating him.
In April last year, two weeks after the incident with Jenkins, Jones “received assurances from CPS senior management via text and phone calls stating that ‘you’ll get through it, you’ll take an optics hit, but you ain’t losing your job’ and ‘hang in there Kurt, definitely wanted to let you know I support you,” according to the complaint.
Yet at a disciplinary meeting in June, with no previous indication he could be terminated, CPS officials gave Jones the opportunity to resign or be fired two days later, according to the lawsuit.
Later that afternoon, Jones was told he actually had until 4 p.m. to resign or CPS would send a letter to the school community and respond to a Chicago Sun-Times inquiry announcing his termination, the suit said.He submitted his resignation within the hour, according to the complaint, which alleged Jones was “coerced” into a quitting while “under duress” and without a lawyer present. He retained an attorney the next day and tried to rescind his resignation, but his attempt was denied. The district placed a “do not hire” designation on his file the next week.
In court filings in the case, CPS said it decided to speed up the process because the Sun-Times asked about Jones’ status that afternoon and the district wanted parents and staff to hear the news from officials before a newspaper article. The district said Jones was told from the start of the pre-discipline process that one potential result could be termination, and he was told he could have an attorney all along, court records show. Even if he had not resigned, the result would have been termination, CPS told the court.
A federal judge in September denied Jones’ request for a restraining order and injunction to reinstate him as principal, writing in her ruling that there was a “less than minimal likelihood of success” in Jones’ lawsuit, and “there are other stakeholders in this dispute — Franklin teachers and staff, students, parents, and the Local School Council — many of whom would likely be distressed to have Jones at the school while criminal charges are pending against him.” Jones unsuccessfully tried to settle the lawsuit in December.
The case, which started in the local circuit court, was moved to U.S. District Court because one of the complaints, a due process violation, fell under federal jurisdiction in CPS’ view. A federal judge dismissed the federal due process charge late last month and returned the rest of the suit to circuit court.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton didn’t answer questions about either lawsuit, including which officials sent Jones the supportive messages last year, saying the district doesn’t comment on pending litigation.