Keeping Students Safe

Indianapolis Public Schools employee accused of sexual misconduct involving a student

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Arsenal Tech High School

An Indianapolis Public Schools employee was accused of sexual misconduct at Arsenal Technical High involving a student, district officials said.

The incident was reported June 1, according to officials, who declined to identify the employee. The staff member is no longer employed by the district, officials said, but they declined to comment on whether the staffer left voluntarily or was terminated.

The district released a statement saying that all necessary reports were filed immediately to Child Protective Services and in compliance with Title IX, a federal education law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment and assault. “Protecting our students is our top priority and we will continue to be diligent in our efforts,” the statement said.

The incident was also reported to the Indianapolis Public Schools police, according to district spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black.

In addition, Arsenal Tech has been undergoing leadership turnover. After less than one year leading the school, Principal Lloyd Bryant recently submitted his resignation.

Chalkbeat was unable to reach Bryant for comment Wednesday. Reached for comment Thursday after this article originally published, Bryant said that he resigned for family reasons and that his resignation was unrelated to the sexual misconduct report at Tech. He said he is leaving to rejoin his wife and children, who remained in Washington, D.C., when he took a job with Indianapolis Public Schools in 2016.

Black declined to comment on Bryant’s resignation, saying the district does not comment on personnel matters. Chalkbeat was unable to reach Bryant by email or phone.

Bryant took over as interim principal last year after the school abruptly lost Principal Julie Bakehorn. He was later hired to lead the school next year during a district-wide high school reconfiguration.

Indianapolis Public Schools was sharply criticized for failing to report child abuse in 2016. Two district employees faced criminal misdemeanor charges for not immediately reporting sexual abuse allegations against a school counselor, involving a student. The counselor, Shana Taylor, and two employees were fired, with three others resigning in the wake of the incident.

Update: June 28, 2018: This story has been updated to include comment from former Arsenal Tech Principal Lloyd Bryant.

under the microscope

Hundreds of volunteers and vendors still under review in Chicago schools’ background checks, most teachers cleared

PHOTO: Getty Images

Late Friday afternoon, Chicago schools released the climbing tally of employees who have cleared background checks — although hundreds of coaches, custodians, and volunteers remain under review.

The overwhelming majority of staffers — 99.14 percent — have passed, according to the district. But at least 13 people will lose their jobs because of the findings..

The district is still reviewing 107 coaches, out of 3,638, and 240 custodians out of 2,208 who work for private vendors.

When it comes to volunteers, the district checked the backgrounds of more than 8,059, and 403 have not been cleared. Volunteers who are in schools fewer than 10 hours a week do not have to undergo background checks, but principals have discretion to implement a stricter policy, the district said earlier this week.  

Out of the district’s 20,413 teachers, 99 percent have cleared fingerprint-based background checks.

Starting this summer, Chicago Public Schools began doubling down on background rechecks and fingerprinting in the wake of a series of articles from the Chicago Tribune that exposed gaps in how the district handled allegations of student sexual misconduct at the hands of adults. The district announced several new policy changes and precautions before the start of school, including new trainings for staff, hiring for a 20-person Office of Student Protections and Title IX, and a districtwide poster campaign that spells out how to report suspected misconduct.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that some nurses assigned to Chicago schools had been sidelined by background checks. Today’s updated count released by the district shows that only 20 nurse contractors, out of 416, remain in limbo.

The background checks have raised concerns among parents and community leaders who serve on Local School Councils. The district requires council members to undergo fingerprint-based background checks, and some undocumented parents are refusing. A letter of concern addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and district leadership currently has attracted slightly more than 100 signatures.

The latest results provided by the district are below.

 

school security

How Chicago schools’ fingerprinting requirements are scaring away undocumented parents

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Demonstrators at a June rally in the Little Village neighborhood called for the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A letter circulating among public school parents warns of unintended consequences of fingerprinting school council members because of concerns over deportations.

Parents and community leaders are calling on Chicago Public Schools to back away from a requirement for fingerprinting elected school council members, in light of widespread immigrant fears of deportation. The letter, which you can read below, is addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and district leadership.

A group of Local School Council members at New Field Elementary, in Rogers Park, started the letter in English and Spanish after a fellow council member whom they believe to be undocumented refused to be fingerprinted because of fears of deportation.

“They want to have say in the education of kids — but it’s not worth it to risk deportation or be separated from their families,” said Annie Gill-Bloyer, a New Field LSC member who is helping circulate the notice.  

Gill-Bloyer, the parent of a second-grader at the school, said that the adults on the elected councils don’t have any unsupervised contact with children. “There are always several adults in that meeting, including the principal,” she said.

Per Illinois state law, all school council members are required to undergo a fingerprint-based background check, and prospective candidates are made aware of this requirement upon filing as a candidate. But some of them told Chalkbeat that the policy was not previously enforced. Local School Councils help select principals, review school-level budgets, and monitor school improvement plans. 

The issue highlights the balancing act that is bridging communities and schools, while keeping students safe. “The district remains committed to improving efforts to bolster student safety and protections and we also remain a district that welcomes and values all families from all backgrounds,” said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton in a statement.

Starting this summer, Chicago Public Schools began doubling down on background rechecks and fingerprinting in the wake of a series of articles from the Chicago Tribune that exposed gaps in how the district handled allegations of student sexual misconduct at the hands of adults. The district announced several new policy changes and precautions before the start of school, including new trainings for staff, hiring for a 20-person Office of Student Protections and Title IX, and a districtwide poster campaign that spells out how to report suspected misconduct.

The district also has required all employees, vendors, coaches, and other adults who spend a significant amount of time working or volunteering in schools to undergo background rechecks and fingerprinting. Snafus with background checks threatened to delay the start of school for dozens of teachers and have held up staffing in other areas, such as nurses.

Gill-Bloyer said her group decided to write the letter after they called the Office of Local School Council Relations and were told the background checks would be enforced. The group was told that council members who didn’t comply could be removed as early as this fall.    

Calling the background checks and fingerprinting an “unacceptably high barrier to participation” for Hispanic/Latinx families, whose children make up nearly half of the Chicago’s public school population, the letter asks district leadership to reclassify Local School Council members as Level II volunteers — a category that doesn’t require fingerprinting. Council members tend to meet only a few hours per month in schools, often after school hours, and are not typically alone with children.

We understand the necessity of thoroughly screening all adults who work with and around our children in light of the horrifying revelations of sexual abuse and assault,” the letter reads. But, with respect to Local School Council members, “a blanket solution has created unwanted and unintended consequences.”

A Level II volunteer is the same status conferred to a parent who volunteers to go on a field trip or who volunteers in a school for fewer than 10 hours a week. Similarly, those volunteers are not allowed to be alone with children. Level I volunteer status — which requires fingerprinting and background checks — covers coaches and chaperones of overnight field trips.

The letter says that requiring school council members to submit their fingerprints and personal information to an electronic database for background checks exposes undocumented members and their dependents to “the very real risk” of having their information shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Chicago has adopted the “sanctuary city” designation, which essentially means that city officials pledge to limit cooperation with federal law enforcement in deportation cases, unless a resident was involved in a serious crime. The letter notes that stance when asking for the reclassification of school council members to Level II volunteer status.