Two months into merger, Ogden principal benched after attendance problems
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Two months into a sensitive merger with a lower income school, Ogden International School of Chicago’s principal has been “reassigned” over allegations that Ogden’s attendance records were falsified, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler is recommending that Principal Michael S. Beyer be fired after Schuler found evidence that Ogden used improper out-of-district and homeschool transfer codes for students going on long vacations as a way to get around unexcused absences.
Beyer has been “reassigned from his principal duties” immediately, Ogden parents were told Thursday in a letter. An acting principal has been installed during Beyer’s reassignment, the latest in a series of leadership changes at the Near North Side school in the past decade.
The letter continued that CPS officials were informed of Schuler’s findings in late June, months before the start of the new school year in which Ogden’s students, who were mostly white and relatively wealthy, merged with those who attended Jenner, who were mostly low income and African-American. The newly merged school serving grades PreK through 12 now occupies three buildings on the Near North and Near West sides.
The merger was proposed by the communities as a solution for Ogden’s overcrowding and Jenner’s low enrollment, and took several years due to its sensitivity. It since has been held up as an example of how communities can propose their own solutions to facilities problems.
Schuler’s report, which CPS officials redacted before releasing, recommended Beyer’s termination. Four other staffers were also investigated, but no other discipline has yet been handed out, CPS spokesman Michael Passman said.
For the last three years in 75 instances, Ogden marked students who were absent for as short as a week and as long as four months as transferring out of CPS or to a homeschooling situation, according to Schuler’s report. The students returned to the school, it continued, adding that the school’s administration knew in 17 instances that kids weren’t actually going to transfer.
In 27 other cases, the report said, school administrators unenrolled students for absences that spanned four to six weeks and coincided with Ogden’s winter or summer vacations.
Ogden’s attendance rate was near or above 95 percent in all three academic years.
The report added that investigators found conversations or emails in 14 instances where administrators knew a student wasn’t transferring, yet “condoned, orchestrated or suggested unenrollment as a means to avoid unexcused absences.”
In a Nov. 4, 2015, email, Beyer wrote to a set of parents who had notified him of an upcoming vacation, “We cannot excuse absences according to CPS policy … it can affect a school’s rating, which is why we strongly discourage absenteeism of any kind.” Later that day, the report says Beyer added, “If you decide to transfer [student’s name redacted] out during that period, you will simply re-enroll [student] when you return.”
In another instance, the inspector general report said a student was marked as transferring to a new school that was in fact a country club.
Schuler’s report added that Beyer admitted he knew the practice was against the rules, but that he said administrators didn’t recommend or encourage parents to unenroll their students.
The report said Ogden administrators were “on notice” at least as early as September 2016 that they weren’t allowed to transfer students to avoid unexcused absences. At that time, Beyer asked for advice from CPS management about what to do when students leave school for extended periods, according to the report. When told of CPS’ policy, Beyer responded, “This being Ogden, I’d like to play by the rules,” yet Ogden continued to allow parents to unenroll their students for short absences, the report added.
Beyer declined to comment on Thursday. Schuler could not be reached for comment.
Passman said Beyer will be paid pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings. He said officials timed the principal’s “appropriate and necessary” removal with the end of the first quarter of school when they believed the school “in a stable enough position for us to move forward with this necessary personnel action.”
CPS will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday evening for Ogden parents at its east campus, 24 W. Walton Street. Rebecca Bancroft, currently an assistant principal at Back of the Yards High School, will take over day-to-day operations as the school’s seventh leader since 2013 when Kenneth Staral resigned following a credit card scandal.
“We are confident that Rebecca has the leadership experience to ensure that the newly constituted Ogden community has a successful 2018-2019 school year,” read the letter signed by Network Chief Randall Josserand, who oversees a number of principals. “We are confident that Ogden will continue to be a strong school community with your support.”
Beyer started at Ogden in July 2015, after spending four years as principal of Morrill Math and Science Academy on the Southwest Side, 6011 S. Rockwell. He was the longest serving principal since 2013.
A previous contract principal lasted less than a year, asking for reassignment in the wake of May 2014 allegations that a Jewish eighth-grade Ogden student was the target of anti-Semitic bullying online and at school.