High school students at one Chicago public school were allowed to enroll in dance classes even after the dance teacher was let go for not having a license. So, the students weren’t taught anything, yet most of them got A’s.
It’s one of the cases of wrongdoing detailed in the annual report released by Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler Thursday morning. As is typically the case, this year’s report included several findings of district staff stealing or linking contracts to bypass the competitive bidding process. Schuler also found parents lying about their addresses to give their children an advantage when it came to getting into the city’s elite schools.
In the case of the phantom dance class, students are being forced to retake a class, and CPS is in the process of firing the principal.
That principal is one of several employees whose wrongdoing was detailed in the report and who have either been fired or are in the midst of dismissal procedures. Unlike in past years, when the school district sometimes ignored the inspector general’s findings and recommendations, this year the school district has been quick to react to them.
In fact, the school district proactively dismissed two principals found to have committed attendance fraud. Both of those principals are fighting the action, claiming that it was in retaliation for speaking out.
The report also notes several staff found to be working in schools, despite alarming backgrounds. The issue of staff being allowed in schools with criminal convictions came to light this year after a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed systematic lapses that led to students being victims of sexual misconduct.
In one case, a teacher was working for 20 years in an elementary school even though he had been accused of improper sexual contact with a minor. Before being hired by CPS, the teacher was charged with indecent solicitation of a child and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. But he pled guilty to misdemeanor battery, which is why it didn’t come up on the initial background check.
Other teachers and staff were convicted of a variety of crimes from firearm violations to selling Valium.
The current inspector general releases findings as he completes investigations throughout the year. Therefore, many of the cases in the annual report have already been reported.
Among them, a finding that principals of sought-after neighborhood elementary schools were wrongly handpicking and admitting students outside of their attendance boundaries. District policy calls for them to choose out-of-boundary students through a lottery.
Also, a CPS school that serves affluent students also offers a free Montessori preschool.
In addition, this year, the inspector general finished some investigations of corruption under former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who is currently in federal prison for her role in a kickback scheme. Among the findings, Camelot Education, a for-profit company that runs alternative schools, had improper access to Byrd-Bennett. Recently, Camelot agreed to a $1 million settlement with CPS in exchange for the company being allow to continue doing business with CPS.
The inspector general’s office took in more than 1,500 complaints in 2018. The largest categories of complaints were discourteous treatment and tuition fraud, meaning that someone not living in Chicago was attending one of the city’s public schools.
Sarah Karp is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow the education team at @WBEZeducation on Twitter.