Chicago Public Schools officials are reviewing remarks by King College Prep High School’s new principal, who justified changes to the school’s dress code that bar students from dressing “provocatively” as a necessary measure to help prevent sexual abuse.
“The dress, the dress code, we, as we already stated, there has been sexual abuse cases throughout the city of Chicago. These things are put in place to, why, why should we allow students to dress provocatively,” principal Melanie V. Beatty-Sevier said at a recent meeting of the South Side school’s Local School Council.
Beatty-Sevier’s attempts to continue were cut off by shouted protests.
Her remarks were recorded by an outraged parent who played them Wednesday for members of Chicago’s Board of Education.
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Beatty-Sevier, who moved to the school at 44th and Drexel in Bronzeville from Robeson High School after Robeson was permanently closed in June, immediately changed the dress code. That angered some families and now has drawn the attention of central office officials, who have spent the summer tightening policies regarding sexual abuse and ramping up training for school staffers.
Her remarks, made a week ago in response to a student’s questions about the changes to the dress code, were “reckless,” said Natasha Erskine, a King parent who is a member of the Local School Council.
Erskine asked CPS to help the principal, “who I believe to be greatly overwhelmed and unprepared to lead this school.
“The principal — who you all just said most of them have been trained — made a reckless comment to blame victims and associate that with promiscuous dress,” Erskine said.
“Is it the policy of CPS that eliminating provocative dress of young women through dress-code changes is an effective deterrent of sexual assault?” LSC chair Jonathan Williams asked. “And I can stop if the answer is yes.”
“That is not a part of the policy,” LaTanya McDade, CPS’ chief education officer, responded. “We do have training taking place with principals, and this is just highlighting the need to engage further just in proper protocol in terms of how we address our young people.”
McDade said schools officials were aware of the situation and would say only that “some of the things that you brought to my attention, we are investigating.” King parents also have complained about a new bell schedule and some facilities concerns.
McDade did not elaborate, though, and neither would CPS’ communications office. Beatty-Sevier did not return messages seeking comment.
Also on Wednesday, as it continues to implement recommendations recently made by an outside law firm, the Board of Ed also unanimously approved changes to how students and staffers can interact electronically, severely curbing the use of texting and instant messaging outside of a few specific situations.
Teachers and other adults are now barred from using personal social media or email accounts to communicate with any student, and can only text or message high school students, with explicit parental permission, about specific school-related topics. All students also are barred from leaving voice messages on personal phones of any adults working at school.
The policy governing student use of CPS networks and computer equipment hadn’t been changed since 2003 before cell phones and social media dominated young lives. Changes made seek to eliminate the “grooming” or singling out of children by potential sexual predators.