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Chicago schools handling of sex abuse claims ‘tragic,’ says feds

CHICAGO — Federal education officials on Thursday called Chicago Public Schools’ handling of sexual abuse complaints “tragic and inexcusable” and outlined corrective steps after a systemic investigation of the nation’s third-largest school district.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights called its investigation — sparked by student complaints — the most comprehensive of any major urban school district. Federal officials said they found violations of Title IX, which is a federal law designed to protect students from abuse, harassment and gender-based discrimination.

Under the resolution that the district agreed to, Chicago Public Schools must have a second independent review of complaints, review the actions of current and former employees and change the district’s Title IX procedures, among other things,

“We cannot permit this to recur in Chicago or anywhere else,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus.

District acknowledges issues

The district acknowledged that students didn’t get “the comprehensive support they deserved,” in a letter sent to families Thursday. District officials outlined steps that have already been taken, including forming a new office to handle complaints.

“While we have made significant progress, we will not be satisfied until I and every CPS parent believes we have created a safe and supportive district culture,” said district CEO Janice Jackson.

The district has been under scrutiny for its handling of sex abuse cases for years.

In 2018, federal education officials took the unusual step of withholding $4 million in federal grant money citing district failure to provide records on reports of sexual violence against students.

After a Chicago Tribune series that same year, the district created a new agency to handle allegations. That agency received over 600 reports of sexual violence year, with nearly 500 of them involving student-on-student violence.

The federal investigation initially involved four complaints. Three involved student-on-student sexual violence. A fourth stems from a 2015 complaint of a high school sophomore who alleged her teacher got her drunk and abused her in his car.

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