- After what department officials are calling the "most comprehensive review" conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Chicago Public Schools will undergo a "substantial overhaul" of practices following the district’s failure to address sexual violence complaints, according to a Thursday morning press call.
- The OCR’s investigation found CPS failed to respond to complaints of sexual assault and abuse, didn't provide services and remedies for complainants, didn't notify victims of investigation outcomes, and didn't provide a safe environment for all students. In many instances, OCR says, CPS didn't adequately respond to complaints that adults in the school system engaged in "sexual harassment, assault or grooming of students."
- According to the agreement signed yesterday, while the district will not face a financial penalty, it will be required to:
- Conduct a second, independent review of mishandled sexual misconduct complaints
- Review and consider taking disciplinary measures against district employees who failed to address reports of sexual misconduct
- Ensure that the Title IX Coordinator has full authority to coordinate the district’s Title IX compliance efforts
- Develop a comprehensive process to respond and document responsive action to all complaints of sex discrimination
- Ensure impartial investigation of sexual misconduct complaints
Part of the problem, the Education Department found, was the district’s failure to appoint a Title IX district coordinator between 1999 and 2016. The district eventually hired an interim district coordinator earlier this year who did not have the power to implement federal requirements.
Officials say the district has taken “preliminary steps” to rectify its systemic failure, and that the resolution was meant to ensure sexual violence claims across a district do not go unresolved.
A letter to the community from CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in response to the "tragic incidents in which some students did not receive the comprehensive support they deserved," the district has created a Title IX team, including an officer, to head its efforts. Jackson says the district has also rechecked the backgrounds of all staff, volunteers and coaches, and that staff will receive annual, mandatory training.
“This is a wakeup call that the problem exists on elementary and secondary school grounds, as well,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said, pointing out that #MeToo movements have drawn attention to sexual misconduct on higher education campuses. “This was a widespread problem.”
A report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) last month suggested that while reports of sexual assault at schools were on the rise, the underlying reasons were unclear. Numbers pointed to an increase from 3.4% of responding schools reporting at least one incident of sexual assault other than rape in the 2015-16 school year to 5.2% last school year.
Regardless of the underlying reasons, growing reports of sexual misconduct, harassment, violence, and abuse in, outside, before and after school — including on field trips and on school grounds — are a cause for concern, according to the Education Department.
“We are getting several times more sexual violence complaints now than a decade ago,” Marcus said. He pointed out, however, that CPS’ consistent district-wide failures to address sexual misconduct complaints against adults and other students stand out as “unusual.”
In the past, rulings in sexual misconduct complaint cases have suggested schools could be held liable for crimes outside of school hours or off-campus if evidence suggests they could have been predicted or prevented.