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More than 600 new complaints land at CPS’ new department dealing with sex abuse

City Council hearing on CPS sex abuse

City Council held hearings on Nov. 28 on allegations of sexual-abuse in Chicago Public Schools. | Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials have received 624 allegations of sexual abuse in their new office handling such complaints, 133 of them making accusations against adults.

That’s what a top CPS attorney told City Council members Wednesday afternoon at a long-awaited hearing on rampant sexual abuse problems in the country’s third largest school district.

CPS officials set up a $3 million, 16-person Office of Student Protections and Title IX in September to ramp up protections for kids from sexual harassment, abuse and assault, including a hotline for complaints. Staffed by experts in youth, special ed and sexual violence, the office has collected 491 complaints of student-on-student misconduct and referred the 133 complaints accusing adults to the CPS inspector general, whose office inherited the power to investigate them from CPS’ internal law department.

“Less than half of these incidents that are matters that we’ve opened actually involve a CPS employee, volunteer or vendor,” said Doug Henning, the attorney serving as the interim chief of the new office, “but the supports we provide and the assistance that we ensure students receive is given regardless of who the offender is.”

Inspector General Nicholas Schuler told the handful of council members present that his office has identified and is reviewing about 1,000 sexual misconduct cases at CPS since 2000. About 18 of them need more extensive review, and will likely be sent to an outside firm founded by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Schuler also said within the next 12 to 18 months, he’ll be able to lay out what went wrong at CPS that led to the problems documented in June by the Chicago Tribune. To bolster strengthen public trust in the system rocked by the abuse scandal, Schuler’s office will make quarterly public reports on the cases.

“The main thing the IG’s office can add is transparency and independence,” he said. “My confidence is high” in the changes.

Absent from the afternoon hearing of the Committee on Education and Child Development was CPS CEO Janice Jackson, who also did not appear at an earlier one called by state legislators. CPS’ press office didn’t respond to questions asking where she was. Also declining an invitation to speak was Julie Morita, the city’s top public health official.

Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza (10th), a former school counselor, was among those expressing disappointment that Jackson didn’t show up to the meeting that she and other aldermen have been pushing for since June. Garza also questioned spending $3 million on new bureaucrats instead of on more trained experts who work directly with children.

“How did these kids fall through the cracks, who dropped the ball?” Garza asked repeatedly. “That’s the question. That’s the big elephant in the room? I mean you guys are forming all these new offices and all these new things. Fund a counselor and a social worker in every school. That’s what CPS needs to do. Not open another office.”

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) criticized the low number of bilingual staffers, just three so far who speak Spanish, and not Chinese or Polish or any of the other languages spoken by CPS families.

“Cultural sensitivity when it comes for people like you talking to students if that becomes the case,” Maldonado said, “is important to parents.”

Aldermen did not present any proposals Wednesday that would need a later vote.