CPS Wants You to Think They’ve Solved Their Sexual Abuse in Schools Problem. The Feds Don’t Think So.

Parents, I’ll save you the back story if you don’t have time to read why I’m convinced Chicago Public Schools is still not doing the real work it will take to protect our children from sexual harassment, assault and abuse at school. If you don’t have time to read this post, do one thing for yourself and look up your school’s Title IX representative in this directory. Take their name and email and keep it. You never know when you might need it. There are more questions you can ask your child’s school here.

Nice Try, CPS; There’s Lots Yet To Do

Last week, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson sent out a cheerful email to parents highlighting a Student Bill of Rights. You can read the email as a whole here, but this paragraph gives a good feel for their message: “During the past several years, we have been partnering with [the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights] as it reviewed the facts related to cases of student abuse that occurred before June 2018. These were tragic incidents in which some students did not receive the comprehensive support they deserved. As a district, we have been working to ensure no student ever goes through that again.”

Nice spin, CPS. Too bad it doesn’t tell the full story. As Chalkbeat Chicago reported last week, the feds had launched their inquiry into improperly addressed sexual assault well before the Chicago Tribune published its investigation last summer. The newspaper investigation forced the district into action after years of sweeping such incidents under the rug. But the feds were also aware, though their investigations take longer to unfold.

CPS would like you to believe they have done everything necessary to prevent and address sexual harassment, assault and abuse in schools. The district presents itself as a willing partner in the work. Frankly, I’m certain not all the steps have been taken, and I remain skeptical about the district’s commitment to do what it takes to end sexual assault in schools.

While CPS is telling parents its plan of action “already addresses many of the findings released by [the Office of Civil Rights],” the feds disagree.

“It is clear there is a great deal more they need to do and this resolution agreement represents that,” Kenneth Marcus, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, told Chalkbeat. 

It’s All About Training

Last summer, national experts told me about how districts can best prevent sexual abuse of students in their schools. The major point they made, that Chicago continues to miss, is the importance of investing in deep, culture-changing training. So far, the universal training CPS staff receive is an annual webinar. One teacher described its contents to me as “common sense.” An annual dose of common sense will not change the culture enough to protect kids.

Until every school-related adult who interacts with children–principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, coaches, bus drivers, clerks, security guards, cafeteria staff–until every single one of them receives in-person training from a group like the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, we won’t get the culture change we need to keep our kids safe.

And as of September 12, the feds saw no evidence that level of training had been or would be provided. According to their letter outlining the agreement, CPS has “invested in comprehensive training for one Title IX School Representative” at each school. This training, however, “does not substitute for mandatory, District-wide training for all District-affiliated adults.” Further, while CPS told the feds its Title IX Office will have its training and compliance team train students on Title IX and how to exercise their rights to protection, “the District did not provide OCR with any information regarding its plans to roll out such training or the content it intends to deliver.”

One Trained Adult Won’t Change a School

That’s not making me a believer. One trained person in each school building does not create culture change. I talked about this over the weekend with a local parent advocate. She noted that the one rep in each school model is similar to state-mandated supports for children with IEPs. As she put it, “That’s not going very well.”

And without a real plan to help students know their rights, I doubt this training will actually happen. At the very least, CPS certainly won’t do any better training kids on their Title IX rights than it has with sex education. As far as I can tell, the district has a solid sex ed policy on paper but each school puts it into practice and how they do so remains totally inconsistent.

According to the agreement, the feds will continue to supervise CPS as it creates Title IX policy and practice for the next three years. Let’s hope those eyes on CPS push them to live up to their promises.

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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