Newspaper: Chicago Public Schools has abuse reporting issue

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Public Schools is punishing fewer employees who don't report suspected abuse, despite a state law that makes failing to report abuse a crime, according to a newspaper analysis.

The district disciplined employees 27 times for failing to report possible abuse in 2009, the Chicago Tribune reported. The average dropped to 10 discipline cases per year from 2010 to 2014, while only three employees were disciplined last year, according to district records. Reports of sexual abuse in Chicago schools haven't declined in recent years.

Police have investigated more than 500 sex crimes in Chicago schools since 2008. Chicago Public Schools is the third-largest district in the U.S.

The district said it leaves discipline to supervisors' discretion and only occasionally recommends discipline. The district said it will escalate penalties for employees who violate the reporting law.

"Moving forward, the district is committed to a minimum disciplinary response of a board-issued warning resolution or suspension for cases involving failure to report abuse or neglect. In the most serious cases, the board will recommend termination," the district said in a statement.

State law says school personnel, clergy, medical professionals and many other social-service and law-enforcement workers must report if they have "reasonable cause to believe a child known to them in their professional or official capacity may be an abused child or a neglected child." The law says individuals commit a crime if they "knowingly and willfully" decide not to report.

It is unclear how many times district employees failed to report child abuse suspicions to the Department of Children and Family Services, but district officials said failing to report needs to be addressed.

CPS hired former state inspector general Maggie Hickey to examine the district's response to sexual misconduct. Hickey's preliminary report released in August noted that school workers preferred to have principals report suspected abuse instead of doing it themselves. Hickey also found that there was "a lack of a uniform understanding as to what constitutes 'abuse or neglect' and what ... actions are required or appropriate under various circumstances."

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the district is working to change the culture around reporting abuse through training and revised policies.

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