Is CPS Response To Lincoln Park High School Sex Misconduct The New Normal?

Hundreds of angry parents and members of the Lincoln Park High School basketball team turned out for a parent session Monday night about a sex misconduct scandal at the school. Monica Eng / WBEZ
Hundreds of angry parents and members of the Lincoln Park High School basketball team turned out for a parent session Monday night about a sex misconduct scandal at the school. Monica Eng / WBEZ

Is CPS Response To Lincoln Park High School Sex Misconduct The New Normal?

In a matter of weeks, Chicago Public Schools moved with lightning speed at Lincoln Park High School after allegations of sexual misconduct and “egregious and systemic policy violations” emerged.

Since the first allegations surfaced in early January, the school has launched four separate investigations, removed or reassigned at least five adults, including the principal and assistant principal, and suspended the rest of the boys basketball season.

What a difference 18 months makes.

Since June 2018, when a Chicago Tribune investigation found the school district had failed for years to protect students from sexual harassment and abuse, the district launched a series of major changes. These include creating an Office of Student Protections (which is investigating Lincoln Park), new staff training, new background checks and a swift response to any allegations of misconduct.

In the last year and a half, educators across the city have been removed pending the outcome of investigations, but rarely have these actions been as widespread and elicited such a furious reaction as what’s taking place at Lincoln Park. An angry crowd of parents and students confronted CPS officials Monday night, demanding more concrete answers and the reinstatement of their administrators.

“CPS obviously feels pressured, and they made a knee-jerk reaction that was incredibly disruptive,” said Michelle Hoersch, whose daughter is a sophomore at Lincoln Park. “They should have consulted the local school council and the community. They should have done a proper investigation instead of being so reactionary. Why do you fire people over allegations?”

Meanwhile the head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, lambasted the Office of Student Protections.

“The Office of Student Protections … is incompetent. They are inconsistent. They are making it up as they go along, and that is how they are communicating with principals,” said Troy Laraviere, adding that he’s been in communication with the ousted Lincoln Park Principal.

He also said CPS isn’t being clear with principals about the appropriate protocol they should follow when allegations of sexual misconduct surface.

At the meeting Monday night at the North Side school, CPS officials laid out the allegations, which include both student and adult misconduct, failure to follow mandatory sexual misconduct reporting protocols, ongoing retaliation against witnesses and complainants, improper student discipline and interference with an official investigation by school leadership and staff.

The allegations stem initially from a report of misconduct received Jan. 2 by the Office of Student Protections after the boy’s basketball team went on an unauthorized overnight trip in December. Following that, allegations of “serious policy violations” emerged.

On Jan 14, CPS said a new, separate complaint of alleged sexual misconduct came in and a second investigation began. Two days later, CPS said “school leadership was aware of student-on-student retaliation that was not properly reported” and a third investigation was launched.

Then, on Jan. 17, a fourth investigation began after a new, separate report of alleged sexual misconduct emerged related to the girls’ basketball team

By late January, five adults had been removed, suspended or reassigned, including Interim Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield, who were removed last week. The district also reassigned a dean, John Johnson, and boys basketball Coach Donovan Robinson. Pat Gordon, the head basketball coach, was suspended. The Office of the Inspector General, which is also investigating, recommended that an adult connected to an alleged incident involving the girls basketball team be removed, CPS officials said.

At the Monday meeting, CPS officials described the allegations as “serious misconduct that led to student harm,” and said they received “information and evidence from investigators demonstrating egregious and systemic policy violations, misconduct and failure to protect students at LPHS.”

CPS officials on Tuesday made clear they couldn’t discuss any individuals involved but confirmed the allegations include both student-on-student misconduct and adult-on-student misconduct. The district also said allegations of retaliation involve both students and adults.

In reference to the criticism about the way the district has handled the allegations, CPS spokesperson Michael Passman said, “Our top priority is ensuring all students have access to a safe and supportive learning environment, and the actions we have taken are warranted and necessary based on the information we have at this time.”

Many parents and students called the allegations “vague” and argued that before abruptly stripping their school from its top officials, the district should have provided a more clear account of the incident in question.

“They are talking about an ongoing investigation, but what are they investigating about? … They won’t answer the direct questions. We are not asking questions about exactly who is involved, but just what is going on, why does certain people have to lose their jobs,” said Nolynn Nix, a Lincoln Park student. Dozens of students took part in a student walk out Monday morning demanding more answers from CPS.

The removal of the school’s top leadership came on the same day CPS Inspector General Nick Schuler resigned. Schuler, whose office has been tasked with investigating more than 1,000 sexual abuse cases, had been under investigation for allegedly creating a toxic work environment.

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.

WBEZ reporters Monica Eng and Sarah Karp contributed to this story.