A student’s perspective on CPS’s ‘Plan of Action’

By Frank Rodriguez, Editor-in-Chief

I opened my phone and read another email about an indefinitely removed staff member for the second time in a six-week period: A teacher was under investigation. I didn’t think too much of it; it felt impersonal and remote.

When I walked into my next class, the desk normally occupied by my teacher was empty, and it all came together. When we were told our teacher was pulled out for a meeting earlier that day, my classmates and I knew that it was our teacher who had been removed.

A week later, an administrator came in to tell us that, though the school was working to find a qualified substitute, the situation was now being handled by CPS, and Lane administration did not know when the teacher would come back, if at all.

It is important to note that the nature of the “inappropriate” behavior/communications  (mentioned in the emails from Lane administration) that my teacher and the one removed in January have been accused of has not been specified and has the potential to be a multitude of things, if they are found to be guilty at all.

However, in my six years at Lane, I have never seen any of these cases of “inappropriate” behavior be handled with such caution. The case of my teacher is now being dealt with by CPS officials, and while there has been no information released to imply the cases are sexually-related, it is concerning that the outcomes of cases dealing with such “inappropriate” behavior are hidden from public attention.

When I was writing a story about CPS’s ban on turnitin.com earlier this year, I looked into the district’s new policies. I began to question the effectiveness of the policies that were put in place last summer after the Chicago Tribune published an exposé titled “Betrayed” about the extensive sexual abuse and harassment issues in CPS.

It appears as if CPS is not prioritizing the safety of its students but instead limiting the damage that the cases can do to its reputation.

CPS is doing damage control.

I’m not saying that CPS did an awful job reacting to the situation. They published a “Plan of Action,” which was last modified on Aug. 28, 2018, to deal with the existing cases and make it easier to report and respond to new cases.

The Plan of Action has policies in it that make our schools safer: Background checks were re-run on all employees, staff were educated on topics such as grooming and many who were accused of sexual assault were removed from schools prior to the start of the school year.

In addition to the policies educating staff members, the plan promised a “district-wide education and awareness campaign to help students, staff, and community members identify and report abuse.”

However, well into the second semester, I have not seen that campaign at Lane. As a student, I have seen very little to inform us of what exactly sexual abuse is and what to do to report it.

Besides some posters that are scattered around the halls, there has been no mention of the underlying issue in the district, and many people that I talk to this year are still unaware that CPS even had a campaign.

According to a report of the Office of Student Protections and Title IX (available at cpsoig.org), which was founded in direct response to the exposé, there were 136 sexual allegation complaints in the district brought to the office between Oct. 1, 2018, and Jan. 9, 2019, which averages to 2.43 sexual abuse cases being reported to the office per school day.

Even though I support components of the Plan of Action, why did it take an exposé to get CPS to take action? Why are none of the issues being discussed with students, and where is the awareness campaign? Is the problem actually getting better, or will things just go back to the way they were once the media attention subsides?

Though CPS is making steps in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Just because there was a reaction when the problem was exposed does not mean it is solved.

The problem will only be solved if the district is willing to step up and admit the issue of sexual abuse in our schools is not gone and discuss the issue with students and the public. It may hurt CPS’s reputation, but its reputation is not the most important thing at stake.