A damning new report says Chicago Public Schools failed at nearly every level at preventing, responding to and tracking hundreds of cases of sexual misconduct in recent years.
The report, released Friday and sent to parents and staff throughout the district, detailed the shortcomings in CPS’ handling of sexual misconduct allegations after the Chicago Tribune revealed widespread abuse throughout the district.
“We found systemic deficiencies in training, reporting, aggregating data, tracking trends, and comprehending the extent of the sexual misconduct facing CPS children,” the preliminary report by Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor and Illinois Executive Inspector General, states. “These deficiencies occurred at all levels: in the schools, the networks, the Central Office, and the Chicago Board of Education.”
The report said the district had investigated more than 450 allegations of adult sexual misconduct against students. Misconduct was found in nearly half of those cases.
But since there was no systematic effort to track the problem, officials didn’t even know how bad things were.
“CPS failed to recognize the extent of the problem,” the report said. “It is no surprise then that many of the employees we interviewed expressed shock about the reported extent of sexual misconduct against CPS students.”
Even worse, the problem is likely even more widespread than thought — as many abusers weren’t caught. The report concluded that CPS failed to conduct adequate background checks or alert other schools when someone was fired for sexual misconduct,
“Some predators went undetected or unpunished throughout this time, and some serious offenders were able to get jobs in other school districts,” the report states.
Meanwhile, victims were usually offered services — but not always. That was in part because school officials weren’t equipped to deal with the problem.
“Many administrators did not believe that they were adequately trained to handle allegations of sexual misconduct. As a result, many administrators did not emphasize victim services in any uniform manner. According to CPS records, for example, CPS provided support services to most victims when an investigation was initiated within the last three school years. This number, however, was not 100 percent,” the report states.
Too much autonomy?
The report faulted, in part, the fact that many principals have significant autonomy to run their schools.
“For many issues, this practice provides significant benefits,” the report says. “But, for preventing sexual misconduct, it does not.”
Some of the failures can be attributed to a lack of resources, but high turnover in top leadership is also played a role.
“Not only has CPS experienced several leadership turnovers recently—with one CEO indicted and another leaving amidst a cloud of allegations — but CPS also regularly has high turnover in other … leadership positions, such as network chiefs,” the report states. “This turnover makes it difficult to instill and maintain productive policies and procedures, stable systems independent of any person, and cultures of compliance.”
Hickey said that Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview.
But Sharkey, in comments Friday, put the blame on Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the shortcomings detailed in the report.
“Emanuel and his hand-picked school bosses have failed repeatedly to protect schoolchildren from harm,” Sharkey said. “Emanuel’s hand-picked administrators and board of education have repeatedly rebuffed our efforts to establish an independent task force to address this issue, just as CPS has repeatedly bungled its efforts in re-fingerprinting educators.”
Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor, acknowledged: “more needs to be done.”
“Today’s report is a major building block in our ongoing work to ensure every student is safe and any misconduct is addressed thoroughly,” he said. He said the mayor was “grateful” for work done by CPS CEO Janice Jackson and “thankful that brave young women shared their stories to help keep others from being abused.”
In response to the scandal, district officials said they were taking steps to update policies and procedures and reinforce training for staff.
CPS has created an Office of Student Protections and Title IX to respond to allegations and advocate on behalf of student victims and partnered with the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center to coordinate policies aimed at preventing sexual violence. Officials will also re-check all backgrounds of current employees, vendors and volunteers by this fall.
CPS transferred abuse investigations involving adults from its Law Department to the Office of the Inspector General in June in order to eliminate perceived conflicts of interest generated from CPS investigating itself.
Officials plan to launch an awareness campaign so that students know how to recognize and report sexual misconduct and so staff understand the school system’s reporting requirements, the report said.
Contributing: Fran Spielman
Read the full report: