Tensions and emotions are running high among students and teachers at Chicago’s Lincoln Park High School who have now seen three changes in their top administration in less than a week. This comes amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving the school’s boys and girls basketball teams and allegations of “egregious policy violations” at the school.
On Thursday morning about 200 students staged a sit-in followed by a walkout and rally where they demanded the reinstatement of their fired principal and assistant principal. Chanting “Why are you hiding CPS?” students say they are fed up with the way Chicago Public Schools has handled the allegations of misconduct.
“It doesn’t feel like a real school right now. It just feels like everything is falling apart,” said Ella Wong, a junior. “We don’t have anything set in place, so it makes it very chaotic inside the school.”
They want their ousted top administrators returned, including Interim Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield, both fired last week. On Wednesday, Lincoln Park’s Local School Council (LSC) sent a letter to the mayor and CPS’ CEO demanding the administrators be reinstated, along with Dean John Johnson. They also want the suspended boys basketball season to resume.
CPS officials say five separate investigations have been opened since Jan. 2, leading to the firing, suspension or reassignment of six adults and the suspension of the basketball season. The allegations include student-on-student misconduct and adult-on-student 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.
CPS officials say students have been harmed, and insist their actions are warranted to keep students safe and “necessary based on the information we have at this time.” They also say they can’t answer questions about individuals involved in an ongoing investigation.
To add to an already tense situation, the school district Wednesday night announced the departure of Judith Gibbs, who was brought in Monday to replace Thuet. In a letter to families, the district said Gibbs decided she was not a “good fit” for Lincoln Park. This came only after her third day at the school.
Her departure comes after a video circulated Wednesday that allegedly showed her trying to grab a student by the chin. CPS said late Wednesday it had opened a new investigation regarding improper contact with a student. It was not immediately clear if this was connected to the video, though the Local School Council cited the video in a letter to parents Thursday and said they were “disappointed that the subsequent letter from CPS did not share the true circumstances of this sudden removal.”
To replace Gibbs, school district officials are bringing in a different temporary veteran school leader, Calvin Davis, as a second “administrator in charge.”
“To be honest, I feel kind of sad to represent the school right now. It’s really disappointing,” said Jovany Munoz, 17, who claims to be the student in the video with Gibbs as she tried unsuccessfully to get his ID. “It felt like a mother, when you grab someone’s kid. I am not a child. I felt weird. I felt funny.” Munoz wouldn’t describe what led to the confrontation.
As frustration continues to escalate among students and teachers, Lincoln Park’s LSC is stepping in to claim a leadership role and defend Thuet and Brumfield, saying the pair “are beloved and respected by all stakeholders at the school. A breath of fresh air, they arrived in August, and in five short months completely changed the culture at LPHS.”
In the letter to the mayor and CPS CEO Janice Jackson, LSC members acknowledged the severity of the initial sexual misconduct allegations and agree they must be taken seriously. But they also said, “The way in which CPS has engaged in this investigation has been like a bomb, destroying indiscriminately, CPS has either widely overreacted or — if not — then it has miserably failed to explain its actions.”
They accuse the district of being inconsistent with the information it has provided to the school community.
CPS officials say they have zero tolerance for any behavior that compromises the well-being of students. The allegations stem initially from a report of misconduct received Jan. 2 by the Office of Student Protections after the boys basketball team went on an unauthorized overnight trip in December.