Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students were sexually abused by district employees over the past decade because of a systemic failure to protect students on multiple levels, the Chicago Tribune found in an investigation released Friday.
The Tribune analyzed 523 Chicago police reports from 2008 through 2017 of children being sexually assaulted or abused inside public schools across the city, and reviewed several other elements, including criminal charges and prosecutions, lawsuits filed by victims, CPS investigative reports and more.
Tribune reporters also spoke to several current and former students who reported abuse at the hands of school employees.
In all, the publication found 72 school employees alleged to have violated students, including teachers, counselors, coaches, security guards and more.
The assaults and abuse took place at schools across the entire city, the Tribune reports, with a searchable database to find incidents reported at specific schools.
The Tribune alleged that “ineffective background checks exposed students to educators with criminal convictions” and that teachers and principals routinely failed to alert child welfare investigators or police despite the state-mandated reporter law.
However, state law also failed to protect students, according to the Tribune, with weaknesses in Illinois law helping to protect predators while the State Board of Education took years in some cases to discipline perpetrators.
Within the district, the Tribune alleged that officials kept results of internal investigations under wraps and even sought to discredit at least one victim who came forward with her experience when she filed a civil lawsuit.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement that the district has a plan of action to improve protections for students, saying, “I will not be satisfied until I am confident that the district is doing everything possible to ensure that our hiring practices, background checks, training, and handling of sexual assault and misconduct allegations are the best policies and practices to protect our students. Period.”
Jackson said the district planned to bring in an independent evaluator to conduct a "top-to-bottom review" of policies. The Schiff Hardin law firm and former Illinois Executive Inspector General Maggie Hickey were tapped to conduct the review, according to the Tribune, which reported the district had approved a $500,000 contract - and that the findings of that review will be made public, Jackson told the paper.
“Nothing is more important to Chicago Public Schools than student safety – particularly with the adults who are supposed to serve them, and we are taking significant actions to ensure our students have safest possible learning environments," Jackson's statement added.