Chicago’s military education chief quietly resigned after ‘systemic failures’ involving student sex abuse

The departure of Col. Daniel L. Baggio comes amid a national examination of sexual misconduct in school-based military programs.

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Chicago says it has the largest Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, program in the country, enrolling 7,300 students across 44 schools. Youngrae Kim / Courtesy of Chalkbeat Chicago
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Chicago says it has the largest Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, program in the country, enrolling 7,300 students across 44 schools. Youngrae Kim / Courtesy of Chalkbeat Chicago

Chicago’s military education chief quietly resigned after ‘systemic failures’ involving student sex abuse

The departure of Col. Daniel L. Baggio comes amid a national examination of sexual misconduct in school-based military programs.

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Three years after he failed to report sex abuse allegations at a North Side high school, the top official overseeing Chicago Public Schools’ military instruction program quietly resigned.

That resignation is the end of a saga that shows how military education leaders in Chicago played by their own rules — with devastating consequences for students who weren’t protected. The events happened in what CPS says is the nation’s largest Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, program, enrolling 7,300 students across 44 schools.

The official, Col. Daniel L. Baggio, signed a severance agreement in March 2022 with CPS after an investigation by the school district’s watchdog exposed “systemic failures” regarding his oversight of JROTC.

In February 2019, Baggio failed to notify state and local officials of the suspected abuse of a student at Roosevelt High School, according to the investigation by CPS’ watchdog. A JROTC instructor there continued to sexually abuse the student for another nine months before he was arrested, Chicago police records show, a pattern of abuse that included grooming, sexual intercourse and threats to the student if she told anyone.

The CPS Office of Inspector General report has not been made public. Details of Baggio’s resignation and the OIG’s investigation into his mishandling of abuse allegations are detailed in court documents and police and district records obtained by WBEZ and Chalkbeat through public records requests.

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A Chicago Public Schools watchdog found that the district’s top military education official, Col. Daniel L. Baggio, failed in 2019 to notify state and local officials of the suspected abuse of a student at Roosevelt High School on the city’s North Side. Max Herman / Courtesy of Chalkbeat Chicago

What happened in Chicago is an example of a broader pattern of sexual abuse by military education instructors nationally.

This summer, a New York Times investigation identified nearly three dozen JROTC instructors who had been criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students over a five-year period, in addition to others who were accused of misconduct but not charged. That report prompted federal lawmakers to launch their own ongoing investigation of sexual abuse within JROTC programs.

Chicago Public Schools began rewriting its policies for protecting students from sexual misconduct when the Chicago Tribune published a 2018 investigation that revealed major lapses in cases involving teachers, coaches and other adults in and around schools. Since that time, OIG records show that at least a half dozen CPS JROTC instructors and administrative personnel were implicated for either abusing students or, as in the case of Baggio, failing to report the abuse of students.

The departure of Baggio, the top CPS official in charge of JROTC, raises questions about whether a recent overhaul of sexual misconduct protocols is being evenly applied to ancillary programs such as military courses and charter schools. Chicago shares the cost of its JROTC program with the U.S. military.

In response to questions for this story, CPS issued a statement citing its efforts to stem abuse and said the district applies its student protection protocols to JROTC and all other programs. A CPS spokesperson said the district conducted specialized training for JROTC staff this May and August that included a session regarding consent.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Cadet Command (USACC), which oversees Army JROTC units, said the agency has opened an investigation into the events involving Baggio and CPS’ JROTC program. The investigation involves “examining our processes for addressing alleged violations of both school administrative policies and Cadet Command policies.”

The spokesperson also said USACC is working with other military branches to review JROTC policies and is developing a guide to “better inform” senior personnel on “policies to administer a JROTC program.”

Baggio did not respond to multiple phone calls, text messages and LinkedIn messages seeking comment.

What happened?

District personnel records show that Baggio, 63, joined CPS in 2013 after a 30-year military career specializing in public affairs. The military certified him to teach, and after a few years teaching JROTC at a CPS high school, the school district put him in charge of overseeing 120 military instructors operating across nearly four dozen Chicago campuses.

The JROTC program features daily classes on military science and leadership development that seek to “create favorable attitudes and impressions” toward the armed services and military careers. Participants dress in military uniforms, march in drills and adhere to the program’s personal appearance standards, such as maintaining hair that “must not extend below the uniform collar.”

JROTC is popular among many students, providing out-of-classroom experiences such as field trips to historical sites, parades and competitions for drill team and color guard. Previous reporting by Chalkbeat and WBEZ showed that hundreds of CPS freshmen were forced to participate in JROTC at 10 predominantly Black and Latino high schools, which prompted changes such as requiring written parental consent for participants.

Nationally, more than half of JROTC participants are students of color.

In 2019, sexual abuse allegations surfaced at Roosevelt High School, in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, against an instructor named Brian Travis. A student alerted one of Travis’s colleagues that “something is going on” and “something is weird” between Travis and a female student, according to the OIG’s investigation.

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CPS began hanging these posters in schools in 2018 as part of a campus-level awareness campaign about protecting students. Chicago Public Schools

The colleague, Roosevelt JROTC instructor Sgt. Marvin Jamison, said he told Baggio about the allegations the same day.

Baggio then instructed Jamison to speak with Travis about being careful with “what he’s doing” and to “watch” how he behaves, the OIG report said.

Following Baggio’s instructions, Jamison confronted Travis and told him, “I don’t know what’s going on, but the word around here is that you’re messing around with one of these kids,” the OIG found. Jamison also told Travis that “whatever it is, it needs to stop,” the report said.

That evening, Travis texted the student about his concern that Jamison would report him. Travis later told the student that he could hire someone to kill Jamison for $2,000 to conceal the fact that they were having sex, according to Chicago police records cited by the OIG.

Baggio told the OIG that he also pulled Travis aside to speak with him about the allegation, but it is unclear when that happened.

What is clear is that the OIG concluded Baggio did not report the alleged abuse to Roosevelt’s leadership or to state child welfare officials, violating CPS policy. Baggio was also required by state law to report the allegations.

The OIG found that Baggio also violated the district’s policy by encouraging a direct conversation with Travis, the perpetrator, which risked interfering with the investigation.

Baggio later told the OIG that addressing the matter with the target of an allegation of sexual misconduct, as he did with Travis, was “standard practice” in the JROTC program.

But doing so put Travis “on notice” and theoretically gave him “more opportunities to intimidate his victim,” said Terri Miller, president of the advocacy organization Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation.

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez (right) and Title IX Director Camie Pratt stand beside each other during a press conference at district headquarters in the Loop on Nov. 19, 2021, where officials discussed multiple sexual harassment and grooming cases at Marine Leadership Academy that were undergoing investigation. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Baggio told the OIG he did not take any other action because he didn’t have specific details about what was alleged to have happened between Travis and the student. Baggio said he did not believe that he mishandled the situation because he never attempted to cover anything up, according to the OIG.

Baggio told the OIG that, in hindsight, there “could have been more” in what Jamison reported to him, but he said Jamison tended to call him about “every little thing.”

Justice comes slowly

The case caught up to Travis by the end of that year, but it would take longer for Baggio, his boss, to be disciplined.

At the end of the school year in 2019, Travis was removed from Roosevelt, reassigned to an administrative role in the district’s central JROTC office and, at Baggio’s request, given a pay raise, CPS records show.

On Christmas 2019, Travis was arrested on sexual assault charges while attempting to board a flight to Mexico. Prior to Travis’s arrest, the student told police that Travis, then 46, had threatened to kill her, her family and friends if she disclosed their relationship, according to police reports. The student was 16 when the abuse began.

A Cook County grand jury indicted Travis on eight counts of criminal sexual assault and one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and he pled guilty to the latter charge in 2020. Prosecutors declined to pursue the more serious charges of criminal sexual assault, court records show.

As part of his guilty plea, Travis was sentenced to time served and four years probation as part of the state’s Adult Probation Sex Offender program. He was required to register as a sex offender and is prohibited from participating in military-education programs involving minors, according to court records.

Travis did not respond to multiple emails, phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

Baggio continued to run the JROTC program until November 2021, when he was suspended with pay while the district investigated the Travis case and a separate sexual misconduct case at Marine Leadership Academy in Logan Square. There, 13 adults — including three military instructors — were found to have committed or covered up sexual misconduct, according to an OIG investigation.

The OIG found that the district’s military education leaders failed to conduct proper oversight of military instructors at Marine. Baggio told the OIG that it was “not [his] business to dig into” why members of the school’s military staff were removed from the school, according to the watchdog report.

Baggio later emailed district leadership seeking clarification on his suspension, writing that the OIG’s investigation was based on a “misguided and faulty assumption” that he was part of the academy’s “day-to-day chain of command.”

“It appears the OIG is trying to use JROTC as a scapegoat for school-based issues,” Baggio wrote in emails in late 2020 and early 2021, which were obtained by WBEZ through a public records request. He also wrote that he was “being treated like a pariah” despite having “done absolutely nothing wrong.”

“This whole situation is preposterous,” he wrote.

Although not connected, the OIG’s investigations into Travis and the abuse of students at Marine each highlighted failures by Baggio and JROTC personnel to follow policies and guidelines designed to protect students.

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Jagoda Rachwal, a community organizer at Healing to Action, holds a blue balloon in front of Marine Leadership Academy in the Logan Square neighborhood on Nov. 23, 2021, to bring awareness to an inspector general’s report about sexual misconduct by instructors at the school. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Baggio’s severance agreement with CPS cites a “mutual desire of the parties to move in a new direction.” According to the agreement, Baggio was not placed on CPS’ “do not hire” list, but agreed not to seek future employment with the district.

The military’s U.S. Army Cadet Command has not made a final decision on whether Baggio will be decertified as a JROTC official, the spokesperson said.

In response to a request to interview JROTC leadership, the spokesperson said Army officials could not discuss the ongoing investigation into Baggio and CPS. The spokesperson said the agency did not play a role in CPS’ investigation of Baggio or his resignation.

Baggio remained employed — and kept some benefits — until June 30. A CPS spokesperson said his position is now vacant. Maj. Peter J. Ramirez, the former deputy director of the district’s Department of Military Instruction and JROTC, is serving as acting executive director.

CPS declined to make Ramirez available for an interview.

The district’s cutting of ties with Baggio is, in one way, another recent example of CPS holding leaders accountable for failing to protect students. In July, the former head of a prominent charter school network resigned after an OIG investigation accused him of sexual misconduct with a student.

But the fact that the OIG cited Baggio for misconduct in multiple cases where students were abused —- and that it took three years for the district to part ways with him — underscores the work that still needs to be done, experts like Miller of the Stop Educator Sexual Abuse organization say.

As the JROTC department’s leader, Baggio had a chance to stop Travis, Miller said.

“He chose not to,” she said.

Alex Ruppenthal is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He can be reached at Alex.Ruppenthal@gmail.com.

This story was published in partnership with Chalkbeat Chicago.