Chicago Public Schools Routinely Mishandled Sexual Assault Cases And Violated Title IX. Experts Warn It’s No Outlier

Chicago Public Schools Routinely Mishandled Sexual Assault Cases and Violated Title IX. Experts Warn It’s No Outlier

Author’s Note – A cautionary message to readers: This article includes explicit descriptions of sexual assault involving children.

For a period of twenty years, the Chicago Public Schools lacked a designated Title IX coordinator. As a result, there was no individual responsible for ensuring that the third-largest school district in the country properly handled cases of sexual assault and harassment involving students. A recent comprehensive federal review revealed the consequences of this lack of oversight.

Numerous sexual misconduct investigations conducted by CPS were left unresolved. The district consistently failed to provide support, such as counseling, to victims of sexual attacks and harassment. In one instance, a female student reported being raped by a group of teenagers, including seven of her male classmates. When she requested that the district transfer her attackers to another school, her dean callously responded that it would be easier for her to leave instead.

Despite instances of teachers harassing students, including one who solicited nude photos from them, and another who made inappropriate remarks about a student’s self-portrait, these educators remained employed by the district. Shockingly, one teacher managed to keep his job for twenty years despite multiple complaints of child harassment. Furthermore, students who reported him were told by administrators that more evidence was needed. Additionally, various school security guards, whose responsibility was to ensure students’ safety, inappropriately touched female students.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described the failures of CPS as "widespread, glaring, and heartbreaking." Kenneth Marcus, the Department’s top civil rights official, declared that the district’s handling of sexual assault cases was among the worst he has witnessed in K-12 school systems. Last week, Marcus emphasized the need to ensure that such incidents do not recur in Chicago or any other location, suggesting that this case should serve as a wake-up call for other K-12 schools.

While the extensive findings against the Chicago Public Schools were notable due to their magnitude, scope, and flagrancy, it is essential to recognize that this district is not an isolated case. K-12 schools throughout the country have neglected their Title IX coordinators, or do not have them at all, which has led to mishandling of sexual violence cases. Experts expressed relief that the Department of Education shed light on CPS’s wrongdoing, but questioned why similar attention has not been given to other cases. They also cautioned that if the federal government does not continue to hold schools accountable for violating Title IX, these failures will persist.

John Shields, a research scientist at ETR, a nonprofit organization that evaluates schools’ handling of Title IX issues, noted that this issue is not confined to Chicago, despite the lack of public awareness. Shields pointed out that when DeVos addressed Title IX, she focused solely on due process rights at the college level and failed to mention K-12 cases. Shields believed that DeVos and the president have an opportunity to address this matter.

Chicago Public Schools’ case is not an isolated incident where the U.S. Department of Education has merely given empty promises. Documents obtained by indicate that under DeVos’ leadership, the Department has compelled numerous schools across the nation to change their approach to sexual assault cases after uncovering Title IX violations. The Department discovered that public schools in major cities such as Detroit and Washington, D.C. lack investigation procedures under Title IX, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling two decades ago that mandates schools to address sexual violence affecting students.

Federal officials revealed that the Hammond, Indiana, public school district failed to conduct appropriate investigations into multiple cases, including that of a male student who confessed to raping a female student, two male students who trapped and fondled a female student, a male student who threatened to rape a female student if she reported him for inappropriate behavior towards female students, and members of a soccer team who allegedly inserted their fingers into the rectum of a fellow male teammate.

Nevertheless, the public, including families with children enrolled in these schools, often remain uninformed about the Department’s discoveries of Title IX violations. This is because, during the Trump administration, the Department stopped publicizing instances where schools failed to comply with Title IX. However, this month, the Department altered its approach by issuing press releases and conducting media calls upon concluding investigations into CPS and Michigan State University’s handling of Larry Nassar’s crimes.

District administrators often do not prioritize Title IX, only paying attention to it when faced with a crisis or activism, according to Meyer. Surprisingly, some Title IX coordinators themselves are unaware of their role. This issue is not limited to small districts; even larger ones like the New York City Department of Education had just one temporary coordinator for over a million students. It took protests, lawsuits, and media coverage to push the city into hiring additional coordinators. The lack of action by districts to improve their sexual misconduct training and policies is due to the bureaucratic inertia they possess, unless they are compelled to act by regulatory findings, lawsuits, or negative press. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) faced problems detailed in a 2018 investigation, and federal investigators were interested in how the district responded. Following the investigation, CPS allocated a budget for a new Title IX office, which has already dealt with thousands of sexual misconduct incidents. It was the comprehensive research by the Chicago Tribune that finally spurred CPS into action. Advocates of students’ rights, such as Fretthold, believe that parents, students, and community members should demand answers from their districts about their response to Title IX complaints and take the initiative to contact district offices and superintendents to ask basic questions about the coordinators. By raising awareness and forcing leaders to take notice, improvements can be made even before a scandal occurs.


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    Bailey Williams is an educational blogger and school teacher who uses her blog as a way to share her insights and knowledge with her readers. She has been teaching for over 10 years and has a deep understanding of the school system and how to help students reach their goals. Her blog is packed full of helpful information and resources, so be sure to check it out if you're looking for help with your schoolwork!