By Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner of Wirepoints
A glance at the news coverage of the recent Inspector General report on financial and sexual misconduct at Chicago Public Schools shows it’s the fiscal mismanagement that’s getting all the attention. The media is highlighting more than $23 million in missing laptops among other material fraud.
But it’s the more urgent issue of sexual abuse in CPS that should dominate the headlines. The IG reported a total of 446 sexual allegations made in 2023, ranging from misconduct and sexual harassment to nonsexual conduct that raises “the appearance of impropriety or possible grooming concerns.” That’s similar to 2022’s 470 allegations.
The IG also substantiated eight cases of adult-on-student sexual abuse.
Instances of abuse continue despite the Chicago Tribune’s exposure in 2018 of the school district’s sexual abuse crisis, when the newspaper found police had investigated more than 520 cases of juvenile sexual assault and abuse in Chicago’s public schools from 2008 to 2017.
Some things have improved since the publication, like the passage of Faith’s Law and the creation of the OIG’s Sexual Allegations Unit, but until CPS is subject to massive outside scrutiny and public outcry – much like the Catholic Church rightfully received for its own abuse scandals – count on cases of abuse to continue.
A lack of management and accountability
The problem at CPS is a lack of control and oversight, something the OIG office openly admits:
“Among cases closed by the agency’s general investigations unit from July 2022 through June 2023, Inspector General Will Fletcher said there’s a consistent theme: ‘Where you find vulnerabilities in management controls (and) exercising oversight — you will find fraud.’”
Those same vulnerabilities allow for continued instances of sexual abuse.
What’s worse, sexual abuse is harder to detect than stolen laptops or missing funds. There’s nothing “missing” for a manager to notice. The prevalence of texting and video also makes abuse easier to perpetrate and harder to detect.
There are also likely many cases that go unreported and undiscovered due to shame or fear of retribution. That was certainly the case for the Catholic Church, which saw most accusations take years or decades to emerge.
And then there’s the CTU and its collective bargaining agreement. Their “myriad” and “tedious” rules are more about protecting the union and its members than they are about protecting children.
In sum, the deck is already stacked against parents and their children when it comes to abuse. The system’s continued mismanagement only makes things worse.
The Chicago Tribune’s “Betrayed” series should have opened the door to massive changes and extreme transparency. It should have spurred the creation policies mirroring the Catholic Church’s own reforms, including:
A strict “one strike and you’re out” zero tolerance policy, as established in the Church’s Dallas Charter.
Removal of accused employees from school until an investigation is completed.
A public and easily accessible website that lists all offenders, their histories and their whereabouts, so these teachers don’t become tutors or get hired by another school system.
A rigorous screening process obsessed with a hiree’s character.
Robust and mandatory “safe environment” training for all employees and vendors.
And it should have spurred State Attorney General Kwame Raoul to open an investigation of his own.
Instead, Raoul’s office dedicated itself to a multi-year reinvestigation of the Catholic Archdiocese, decades after the Church’s strict controls and safety processes had already been put in place.
Not only has CPS failed to implement best practices for its own investigations, but its processes make it nearly impossible for private groups and citizens to conduct their own inquiries.
A report by KidsToo, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to child protection, recently outlined its attempt at investigative reporting needed to get to the truth about the depths of sexual abuse at CPS.
It’s vital work because the OIG is always overwhelmed: “Every year, the OIG receives more credible allegations than it has the resources to investigate, so the investigations that are opened are the result of an assessment of the severity of the allegations and the potential impact or deterrent effect of investigating certain subject matter.”
Unsurprisingly, KidsToo’s efforts were often thwarted for a host of reasons, which they laid out in detail in their “In Loco Parentis” report, including:
A FOIA process designed to “limit and filter information” rather than freely provide it.
Difficulty in gaining access to appropriate teacher data, including license information.
The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement allows CTU representatives to be part of the investigative process, creating a “myriad of steps” and “tedious” processes.
Other contract rules, including “grievance” and “mediation” processes, create even more investigative delays.
The revocation or suspension of teaching licenses is hampered by the State Superintendent having ultimate control over the process.
To be clear, these investigations involve serious allegations and so should be treated seriously, but the process should not be so labyrinthine for those trying to gather information.
* * *
That CPS is such a poor steward of taxpayer dollars is bad enough, but the failure to catch fraud and theft pales in comparison to the continual harm done to Chicago’s children. Not only are a vast number pushed out of the system without the basic skills they need to succeed in life, but some also end up victims of sexual abuse.
It’s a sad reminder of how inept, corrupt and morally bankrupt CPS really is.
Tue, 01/16/2024 – 21:00