Chicago school officials are creating an office designed to oversee and investigate allegations of sexual abuse and harassment and support students who are victims of abuse.
The announcement came weeks after a Chicago Tribune investigation found that dozens of the city’s students may have been sexually abused, assaulted, or harassed by adult school employees, and that the district did not have a consistent process to handle such complaints. The paper also found that the district had hired employees with criminal records, including those with convictions that should have been red flags.
According to the Tribune investigation, since 2011, the district’s law department had investigated 430 reports of abuse, assaults, and harassment against students by school employees. And the Chicago police had looked into 523 claims of abuse or sexual assualts in the city’s schools—allegedy by adults and students—between 2008 and 2017.
Among the cases the Tribune cited: A 16-year-old female student was raped by a male coach and another in which a substitute teacher sent obscene text messages to a 14-year-old female student.
Chicago officials have been trying to respond since the bombshell report. Earlier this month, the district announced a plan of action to protect students, including a mandate that every adult employee in the district undergo criminal background checks before the start of the new school year. While employees often are checked before they are hired, they are not often rechecked once they are on the job. Employees will now undergo periodic background checks, according to the new district policy.
The district has also partnered with the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center to provide support services for students who are victims of sexual abuse and sexual-health-education training to district staff.
Earlier this week, the district removed two principals—from Goode STEM Academy and Simeon Career Academy—as part of ongoing investigations into the response sexual abuse allegations, the Tribune reported.
The new office—the Office of Student Protections and Title IX—was developed with Maggie Hickey, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Illinois state executive inspector general. Hickey is currently reviewing how the district handles allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. The team will report directly to Janice K. Jackson, the district’s CEO.
“Chicago’s students deserve a school district that will fully protect them and advocate for their best interest at all times, which is why we are creating a robust new team to support students that is more comprehensive than anything else in the country,” Jackson said in a statement announcing the newest steps. “By doing everything from guaranteeing student-on-student abuse allegations are handled properly to ensuring every member of the CPS community understands their role in recognizing, preventing, and responding to abuse, the Office of Student Protections will help ensure all students can safely access the high quality education they deserve.”
The office will refer allegations of adult-on-student abuse to the district’s inspector general’s office for investigation; oversee investigations of student-on-student abuse, harrassment and bullying; and ensure that student victims are matched with advocates who will help provide long-term support services. The office will also collect data on sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct. And it will also have a Title IX investigative team that will investigate the most serious allegations of student-on-student sexual abuse and violence, according to the district.
You can find more information on Chicago’s Action Plan to protect students here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.