Chicago public schools: Over 500 reports of sexual misconduct, over 100 involving adults

Gang violence isn’t the only serious problem plaguing the city of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that over 500 reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated in Chicago public schools over the past ten years. Over 100 of those incidents involved adults preying on children.

In all, the Tribune closely examined 108 cases and identified 72 school employees as alleged perpetrators in the last decade. The rest were student-on-student sexual attacks.

The adults involved included award-winning teachers, lunchroom aides, counselors and coaches, security officers and two deans.

By law, school officials are required to pick up the phone and call the Department of Children and Family Services, but in practice some schools spend time interviewing the students and teachers involved before calling anyone:

At Hubbard, several former students and a former employee told the Tribune they had reported possible abuse by security guard Walter C.J. Wells as early as 2011, but there is no record that the school took action until 2014, when Aguilar and other teenage girls reported that they’d been groped.

At that point, child-abuse investigators finally were brought in, and police got involved, leading to Wells’ imprisonment…

When officials at Black Elementary School discovered in 2015 that a substitute teacher was sending lewd texts and graphic sexual propositions to an eighth-grader, they confiscated the girl’s phone. The next day, the principal summoned her mother, Lenett Reccord, and asked what she knew. The officials seemed to be missing the point, Reccord told the Tribune.

Stunned and frustrated, she recalled asking: “Where are the police?”…

In other districts across the state and country, school employees have been imprisoned for failing to report abuse. But the Tribune found no evidence that Chicago school employees who kept quiet about allegations were charged criminally.

So, even though it’s illegal to ignore reports of sexual misconduct by failing to contact authorities, no one in Chicago is held accountable for failing to do so. Even if the conduct is reported, the Chicago Public Schools law department often plays both sides of the fence, acting as an investigator and then fighting any subsequent lawsuits against the schools:

Experts say CPS creates a conflict of interest by assigning its Law Department to investigate allegations of abuse and then drawing on the investigative files to defend the district if the victim sues.

The district told the Tribune this is not unusual.

But that kind of dual role gives districts an incentive to bury damaging information, said education law specialist Phillip Buckley, an assistant professor of educational leadership and research methodology at Florida Atlantic University.

“As investigators, they are probing the entirety of the incident and asking victims to share their experience. I don’t think I would want my kid talking to an investigator if what they say may be later used against them,” Buckley said.

This is just a small portion of the full report which goes into much greater detail on some of the specific allegations. For instance, CPS announced the sudden resignation of a choir director in 2012. What parents weren’t told was why:

What parents didn’t know was that Weaver resigned just as CPS investigators were preparing a devastating report alleging sexual misconduct dating back more than two decades.

That 37-page report from September 2012 found “credible evidence” that Weaver had oral and anal sex with one student over a five-year period, showed pornography to that student and another student at his apartment, and sexually harassed multiple students at Payton and at nearby Lincoln Elementary school, where he previously taught…

It wasn’t until 2016 that the first hints of Weaver’s treatment of children would become public. He was charged that year with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child on allegations he abused the son of a family friend two decades ago when that boy was 8 or 9 years old.

These kind of people are going to turn up in jobs that involve children. But the Tribune found evidence that CPS failed to conduct proper background checks on multiple occasions. Nine of the 72 workers the paper investigated had prior arrests, including some that involved sexual offenses against other children. Combine that failure with the school’s hesitation to involve proper authorities and attempts to downplay or cover up assault and you’re creating a space that seems designed to help abusers get away with their behavior.