Chicago Public Schools losing $4 million federal grant money

October 15, 2018

The federal Department of Education has decided to withhold $4 million in grant money from Chicago Public Schools, citing the district’s failure to protect students from sexual assault. The letter notifying CPS was delivered Thursday and detailed the suspension of the $4 million that is a portion of a $14.9 million “Magnet Schools Assistance grant” and was to be dispersed over five years.

The state of CPS’ mismanagement of sexual assault reports was first reported in the Chicago Tribune series “Betrayed” published early this year. In the series, reporters examined 108 cases from the past decade and found 72 alleged predators, everything from security officers, respected teachers, to deans.

A portion of the federal agency’s reasoning for withholding comes from violations of Title IX, where protections against gender-based discrimination, abuse and harassment that interferes with academics are guaranteed. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stated that CPS cannot show its adherence to civil rights obligations to address student’s sexual assault reports, so this year’s $4 million in grant money was suspended.

Michael Passman, a CPS spokesman, disagrees with the federal government’s diagnosis and decision.

“The Trump Administration’s move to threaten funding for schools that serve children of color is another attack on Chicago considering CPS has already taken significant steps recommended by an independent expert to transform the way it responds to and prevents abuse,” he said.

“The Trump Administration’s move to threaten funding for schools that serve children of color is another attack on Chicago.””

— Michael Passman, Chicago Public Schools spokesman

Even though CPS has “already taken significant steps” towards abuse prevention and response, the Chicago Tribune reports the school district currently has “more pending federal sexual violence investigations than any other K-12 grade district in the country.” Currently four investigations regarding sexual violence in CPS are pending; three involve only students and one concerns both a student and a teacher.

John French, a political science professor at DePaul who teaches a class on Chicago politics, weighed in on the topic justifying the withholdings. “[Having] a hostile environment is just as bad excluding one gender. This should not be surprising to anyone because this consequence can come,” he said. “If you allow a hostile environment, you lose federal money,” citing withholding funding as “the only tool the federal government has to make sure schools comply.”

In the days following the initial notice of loss of grant money, the school district approved a half-million- dollar contract for “a top-to- bottom review” of CPS’ systems of response by former Illinois Executive Inspector General Maggie Hickey and the Schiff Hardin Law firm.

Soon after, a new office has been created to act as CPS’ authority in regard to sexual abuse cases. The group’s $3 million budget backs a new 20-person office that will relay teacher/student misconduct allegations to an inspector general, while conducting all allegations solely involving students in house to ensure CPS follows all guidelines and Title IX legal processes. “The pendulum is shifting,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We’re going to continue [this new office] until we believe that we have provided every protection possible. I’m sure over time we’ll learn how to strike the right balances. … Until we feel that this situation has been addressed in the broadest possible way and that students are protected, it will force us to go to the extreme.”

CEO of CPS, Janice Jackson, describes her semi-positive outlook on the new office’s ability to investigate student-on-student misconduct. “We think this is an opportunity, though, because a lot of attention has been given to, obviously, the adult-on-student cases — which are critically important and I think the ones that we have to address first. But we also have an obligation and an opportunity to raise up a generation that understands that this behavior is no longer acceptable.”

Spearheading an office that can strengthen and enforce strict school policies and procedures seems to be a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, Sharkey still holds concern for his teachers as well. “When tutoring a student alone in your room after school, for example, puts you under a cloud of suspicion, I think we have to be concerned about what that would mean for the work that we do as educators,” he said.

“What does it mean for a coach? What does it mean for someone who tutors students, that we now have a situation where we’re requiring people to report, ‘Hey, I saw someone alone in a room with a student?’”

Sharkey paints a horrible situation for both teachers and students in a climate high in tension due to sexual misconduct allegations but the community, the administration, the faculty and the students have to hope that protocols will improve enough to regain eligibility to receive $4 million grant money.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article attributed a quote to CPS board president Frank Clark when it should have been attributed to Chicago Teacher’s Union president Jesse Sharkey.

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