EDITORIAL: CPS sex abuse scandal brings shame on the entire system
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Everyone in Chicago Public Schools should be ashamed.
The bureaucrats, top to bottom. The school principals and classroom teachers. The security guards, social workers and coaches.
Their collective failure to notice and put a stop to the sexual abuse of hundreds of CPS students over the past decade should cause all of them to hang their heads and head off for some deep soul-searching. They should be asking themselves: Did I see something and not speak up? Did I have an inkling, a sinking feeling that I ignored?
Because it was their colleagues, people with whom they worked every day, who sexually abused children and got away with it, as the Chicago Tribune has documented in the last few days in a powerful investigation.
The Chicago Public Schools failed to keep children safe for years, and we have no doubt parents across the city today are having nightmares. Children were sexually preyed upon by adults whose first duty — before teaching a lesson, coaching a game or cashing a paycheck — was to keep kids safe.
This mess is too big for a quick fix, and it will take a lot of money — your taxpayer money — to even try and set things right. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS have arranged to pay an outside law firm as much as $500,000 to review the district’s policies and practices for handling allegations of abuse.
Heads may roll, and they should.
As detailed in the Tribune series, children were abused in ways and numbers that should leave us all disgusted.
Consider the volunteer athletic coach at Simeon High who had four prior felonies — a record he lied about on his job application — but who kept his position even after an employee in CPS’ district office warned Simeon’s principal that the man shouldn’t be allowed to work there.
“This person MUST NOT perform volunteer work,” the employee wrote in an email.
That coach raped a 16-year-old girl 40 times. And nobody stopped him until an outside teacher uncovered the truth that eventually sent the man to prison.
As you read the Tribune stories, remember this: The facts were gathered the hard way, with poor cooperation from CPS. Four reporters spent months ferreting out the truth, refusing to let it go when CPS, true to form, balked at their Freedom of Information Act requests.
There is nothing new in that. CPS puts up roadblocks to public information all the time, and maybe now the message will sink in that it has to stop. Newspapers shouldn’t have to threaten lawsuits to wrestle information from a public institution.
Get over the secrecy. Follow the law.
CPS does a terrific job of telling the world about good news. They are quick to tout the latest uptick in test scores or graduation rates, the latest state sports championship, the latest plans for more Advanced Placement courses and after-school programs.
But we’re pretty sure we never got a press release about a Simeon coach repeatedly raping a student.
And we don’t recall CPS informing parents and the public when a substitute teacher at Black Magnet School sent lewd texts and sexual propositions to an eighth-grader. Nor did CPS call the cops.
Instead, school officials questioned the child’s mother, who later told the Tribune how stunned and frustrated she was when she came that day to the school’s office.
“Where are the police?” she asked.
Not calling the police seemed to be standard operating procedure. So was interrogating victims and letting abusers off the hook. So was having CPS lawyers investigate incidents, then use the information obtained against the victims if they sued the district.
CPS kept the lid on in other ways.
There was, for example, the teacher who showed his students how to access pornography on the internet, invited them to his home to watch movies with him in bed, and gave them candy and cash to keep quiet. He resigned while being investigated. But CPS never warned the Florida school district that later hired him about the investigation, because of a loophole in state law that limits such information-sharing.
While CPS fell down on the job, we should add, the state Board of Education did, too. It suspended or revoked the licenses of only 36 of the 223 educators referred to them by CPS because of allegations of child abuse.
The Chicago-based law firm of Schiff Hardin will now begin its investigative work. Let’s hope it pulls no punches.
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