Skip to main content

Morning Shift

CPS CEO Janice Jackson Says She’ll ‘Be Held Accountable’ For Sex Abuse Scandal

Chicago Public Schools failed to protect students from sexual assault over the last decade, according to an explosive Chicago Tribune investigation, which found that ineffective background checks left students vulnerable to abuse and CPS faculty often failed to alert authorities to sexual misconduct allegations. 

The Tribune found more than 500 cases of abuse that took place for more than 10 years. CPS CEO Janice Jackson responded to the report by tweeting that she was “sick to my stomach.”

Appearing on Morning Shift, Jackson said there were lapses in judgement at both the school and district levels, but she said she takes responsibility for those failures and will work to fix them. 

“As the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I’m standing up and saying that I’m personally going to be held accountable and the district will be held accountable for our part in this,” she said. 

Jackson hired the law firm of Schiff Hardin LLP and its partner Maggie Hickey, a former U.S. attorney, to conduct “a top-to-bottom review” of the school system’s response to sexual violence. Jackson talked to Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about the district’s plans moving forward. Jackson also took questions from listeners. 

Here are some interview highlights. 

Why should parents trust CPS? 

Janice Jackson: Well, that’s our work. We have to make sure that parents have complete trust in the institution of CPS. So I’ll start with just making that public declaration of that being critically important for us. 

But I would also say that we have acted swiftly, given the reporting from the Tribune. And also in most cases — and I say that not to defend any past actions because if we fail one student, that’s one student too many — but in many cases, these things are handled properly. But what the Tribune article definitely pointed out was that there are some gaps and processes and protocols in the organization. There is a definite need for training, and there’s a definite need to strengthen the background check for all people who have access to students in our schools. 

What action will CPS take against school employees who did not report abuse? 

Tony Sarabia: In other districts around the state, employees have gone to prison for failing to fulfill their duties as a mandated reporter — that is someone who, when they see something, they need to report it to the proper authorities and not just the principal or parents initially. 

Jackson: Well, if an employee is aware of a crime and doesn’t report it to anyone, I won’t hesitate, the same way we won’t hesitate to bring a perpetrator to justice. However, I do think there is a need for retraining of staff, which is one of the components of our action plan. … 

The other thing is we’re going to step further than that ... because I think that these inappropriate relationships that maybe aren’t sexual in nature at first, those need to be reported sooner rather than later. … 

When an adult takes specific interest in a student or one of more students, and it can look [like] a variety of ways, but specifically we’ve seen cases where maybe there’s favoritism, trying to have opportunities to be one-on-one with students. We changed our policy last year to make it clear that no adult can be alone with a student. And that’s another thing that will be a big part of our retraining strategy. Giving them gifts, rides, or showing them any affection that’s inappropriate. 

Her personal experiences with abuse in schools

Sarabia: Was there anything like sexual abuse, sexual harassment at the two schools where you were a principal? 

Jackson: Personally, I have had experiences with this, both in my professional role as a principal but also with people I have grown up with — friends, relatives, etc. We know that sexual abuse is pervasive in American society, and I think that’s why this is such an important time. The Me Too movement, a lot of things are happening now that is making something that we have just lived with in society and thought was OK or thought that we should be ashamed of, now that’s being brought to light. So I consider this a good thing. 

But when I was a principal, I was hyper-vigilant. If somebody brought something to me, I was aware of the protocol, I reported it to DCFS even it was a beloved person or employee. But as a teacher and a principal, obviously students would confide in me about various things, and the thing we were responsible to do was report that to the authorities. … 

A majority of employees do that. They do that on a regular basis. But [the Tribune] report definitely illuminates the fact that that is not happening in every case, and that’s a failure on our part and we have to fix it. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment, which was adapted for the web by Hunter Clauss. 

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X