Frustrated Lincoln Park High School council calls for meeting with mayor, more transparency from Chicago Public Schools

Members of Lincoln Park High School’s governing body say they want to meet with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson in an effort to reinstate their campus administration. This comes nearly a week after the removal, and subsequent termination, of the school’s interim principal and assistant principal and the transfer of a dean. 

The administrative changes, which Local School Council members said happened abruptly and without enough transparency from the district, happened during a multi-part investigation into sexual misconduct at the school.

A Chicago Public Schools spokesman said a meeting between council members and district leadership is set for Tuesday.

Speaking Friday afternoon to reporters, the mayor called the Lincoln Park cases “horrifying” and said that it was “absolutely necessary that (the district) act and act definitively.” She said she’s also willing to meet with council members.

“There’s a lot of things that were going on that involve student-on-student, that involve adult-on-student, and there’s serious questions about whether or not the administration that was there acted in a responsible way,” said Lightfoot. “Obviously we’ve got to have some sensitivities around the privacy interests of the students, and their parents have expressed that quite clearly. There are also ongoing investigations and I want to make sure that those are independent and done the right way, but I’m happy to sit down with them.”

Standing outside the school Friday morning, council members said they previously spoke with the district’s Office of Safety and Security, but were dissatisfied.

“We need to go to a higher level and understand why the decisions have been made to get us to this point,” said Eli Grant, a community representative on the 12-person council, which also includes parents, teachers, and a student.

Chicago Public Schools has said it had sufficient evidence to back the decisions to first suspend then terminate the administrators. But it can’t detail what it has learned without running afoul of student privacy laws and exposing teenage victims. “The actions we have taken are warranted and necessary based on the information we have at this time,” a spokesperson told Chalkbeat Thursday.

School councils, a fixture in Chicago school oversight for two decades, have the power to evaluate principals and a role in principal selection. They also review budgets. But their authority varies widely school-to-school, with some campuses plagued by chronic vacancies, and their legal and contract limitations mean they do not hire, fire, or evaluate teachers.

Recently, parents’ groups have called for further empowering the councils, and two Chicago-area legislators say they plan to propose legislation this year that would expand the role of the councils in school decision-making.

Grant said that the council was left out of the personnel decisions and that members are frustrated by the lack of transparency about the reasoning behind the decision, including what the fired administrators did or did not do, Grant said. 

“At no point did CPS consult the (Local School Council) to remedy the misconduct,” Grant said. He said the council wants the district to reinstate Interim Principal John Thuet and assistant principal Michelle Brumfield, who’ve been terminated, and dean John Johnson, who has been transferred.

“These were individuals making a positive impact on the school community by listening and caring and doing things that resonated with students from all over Chicago,” he said. “Everyone felt welcomed for the first time in a while.”

Leaving school on Thursday, sophomore Ciara Carroll said the chaos reminded her of last year. 

“No one cares, no one’s happy,” Carroll said.

Another sophomore, Isabella Scott, said that under Thuet and Brumfield’s leadership, this year the school has offered more activities and clubs, the dances are enjoyable, and members of the administration greeted students by name. 

It has been a tumultuous week at Lincoln Park. On Wednesday, the district removed its stand-in administrator, Judith Gibbs, after a video of her appearing to squeeze a student’s face went viral.

Since Monday, students said they’ve seen a greater police presence at the school and fights.

“The last little piece of positivity we had, they’re gone,” Scott said. “[Brumfield] would go out of her way to make sure we felt positive, we felt good about going to school.”

In the midst of the uproar, Scott said the school has demonstrated unity. 

“We’re so much better than this,” she said. “Once this is all over, our school’s true colors will shine. We really are a good school, and the people there are really good people, and so is the staff.”

Chicago Public Schools leaders said in a letter to parents Thursday that a pair of new administrators in charge, former principal trainer Jerryelyn Jones and former administrator Calvin Davis, are visiting every classroom to hear student concerns. 

The district was sending additional people Friday to train staff in leading “talking circles” with students, and had set up a hotline and email for reaching the security office, the letter from Chief Schools Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova and Chief Security Officer Jadine Chou said. “We are committed to providing students with safe and healthy tools to express themselves during this difficult time.”

Justin Laurence and Maxwell Evans of Block Club Chicago contributed to this report.