CPS sex misconduct allegations return to pre-pandemic levels

A rise in misconduct reports was expected as students and staff returned to classrooms full-time after COVID-19 disruptions.

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Title IX Director Camie Pratt speaks during a press conference at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop in November of 2021.

Title IX Director Camie Pratt speaks during a press conference at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop in November of 2021. Pratt said Wednesday that she expects her office to field roughly 400 to 500 misconduct reports on a yearly basis.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Sexual misconduct complaints have returned to pre-pandemic levels at Chicago Public Schools after a major dip during remote learning, officials said Wednesday.

The rise in misconduct reports was expected as students and staff returned to classrooms. Before the pandemic, CPS saw the number of misconduct reports rising every year — and officials saw that as a good sign that their awareness efforts were working.

But district officials expect cases involving adults to plateau at the current rate of 400 to 500 per year now that school communities have a better idea of how to report questionable or abusive behavior. About 84% of CPS employees and other adults in buildings had completed sexual abuse training by the start of August.

“This is probably the level of cases that we’re going to see,” CPS Title IX director Camie Pratt told the Board of Education at Wednesday's monthly meeting. “As we implement the prevention programming...hopefully, we can see maybe then that the case numbers would start to go down.”

There were 2,942 total reports filed from July 2021 through June 2022, Pratt said Wednesday. Her department investigates all allegations of student-on-student misconduct, which make up about 75% of all reports.

That total is up from 927 the previous year, most of which was spent in remote learning. And it’s up from 2,585 in the 2019-20 school year, the last three months of which were also remote.

The reports range from inappropriate touching to sexual electronic communication, grooming, dating violence, sexual bullying and sexual assault.

CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher’s office examines reports of adult-on-student misconduct, as it has since an investigation four years ago revealed systemic problems with the district’s handling of abuse cases.

In that time, the newfound responsibilities buried the office in cases it didn’t have the capacity to handle. After a bolstering of the inspector general’s staff, Fletcher said Wednesday his team is finally closing more cases than it opens.

Over the past five months, the Office of the Inspector General closed nearly 300 cases, including 28 with substantiated allegations, 29 unsubstantiated and 126 referred to other departments.

In the past year, the office opened 470 new cases, roughly in line with pre-pandemic levels. The majority of cases remain “concerning” or “creepy” behavior, and some type of touching that’s deemed less than sexual abuse.

Fletcher said allegations are still mostly leveled against people in the same positions compared to pre-pandemic days, but there’s been a slight uptick against substitute teachers, principals, assistant principals and special education classroom assistants. Officials are examining whether a pattern is developing or more training is needed for those positions.

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