This commentary is by Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.
Since it began operations just five years ago, Chicago Public Schools’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has substantiated violations of district policies prohibiting “sexual assault and abuse, sexual harassment [and] “grooming behaviors,” and other related misconduct in more than 300 separate investigations. At least “16 subsequent criminal charges have been filed” against adults affiliated with the school district “for sex-related crimes by prosecuting agencies.”
One such investigation determined that a teacher had “groomed and sexually assaulted a 17-year-old student on three occasions.” Despite the fact that the OIG’s finding was corroborated by ample evidence, including the teacher’s own statements in text messages to the girl a jury ultimately acquitted him on charges of criminal sexual assault.
Another found that a high school gym teacher had repeatedly exposed himself to an 11th grade girl when they were alone together. The student soon reported the incident to two other school employees, but “both of them failed to notify the school’s administration as they were [legally] required to do.”
While the OIG acknowledges that many alleged abusers continue to work in Chicago government schools despite having been accused of sexual harassment or assault of students and being flagged with a “do not hire” label by district officials, the office attempts to downplay the gravity of the situation by noting there is no clear evidence that Chicago schools have a higher incidence of sexual assault than other school districts around the country.
Unfortunately, it may well be true that the terrible record the OIG documents is normal for large government school systems. But why do education officials apparently find it even more difficult than other managers of large U.S. institutions that deal regularly with children to weed out from their workforces the relatively small number of warped people who are driven to sexually harass and abuse minors?
In a morning radio interview broadcast on Chicago’s AM 560 (NBC) a few days after the OIG’s Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Report was released at the beginning of January, former Illinois teacher Frank McCormick explained why teacher union bosses and state labor laws that hand them monopoly-bargaining power to codetermine with school officials how teachers and other education employees are compensated and managed are a big part of the problem.
As the erstwhile public high school history teacher in Waukegan, an industrial suburb of Chicago, put it, the education establishment’s failure to identify, punish and dismiss sex abusers is “part of an overall larger culture of adults protecting a system that gives them a paycheck.”
McCormick personally learned just how little union officials in his own district cared about keeping schoolchildren safe by observing how they dealt with allegations of gross misconduct by a fellow teacher and coach.
“Everyone knew” the girl’s track coach at his school “was weird around girls,” recalled McCormick. “People had reported it.” But it “was ignored” for years. Finally, the news broke that 50-60 female students, current and former, had filed complaints about the coach’s inappropriate touching and demeaning comments (e.g., “Turn around and let me see what you’re working with”).
McCormick figured the track coach would finally get the termination he deserved. He was flabbergasted when the then-vice president of his union local assured him the coach would in reality keep his job: “[T]his isn’t what you think. … [T]here’s a lot more to the story,” the union boss assured him.
In this particular case, McCormick went on to say, the sex abuser did end up getting fired, despite Big Labor insistence that he was “misunderstood.” Though it did not come up on the radio that morning, the termination was ultimately upheld by a state appellate court in December 2020.
To quote McCormick again, if this chronic failure of America’s Big Labor-dominated government schools “isn’t an indictment of the system, and this isn’t enough to wake people up, we’re in trouble.”