Troy LaRaviere, challenger for Mayor of Chicago, says understaffing and mismanagement at CPS and by Rahm Emanuel has resulted in unchecked sexual assault of Chicago Public Schools students
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: Hello. I’m Dr. Khalilah Harris, with the Real News Network. Today I’m going to be interviewing Troy LaRaviere, who is a candidate for mayor in Chicago. Troy is also president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. Welcome, Troy.
TROY LARAVIERE: Thanks, Khalilah. Appreciate you having me.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: Absolutely. So, today we’re going to be talking a bit about a recent report issued in June of 2018 from the Chicago Tribune about Chicago Public Schools, and issues that have been surfaced around sexual assaults both not being reported, and understaffing that has supported a number of egregious occurrences happening for children in Chicago Public Schools. Following the explosive report by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Public Schools issued a statement laying out plans to begin a process to audit their background check and investigative processes. They’ve already begun to take steps to address matters, including a recent announcement from Janice Jackson, Chicago Public Schools CEO, that two principals implicated in the report have been relieved of their duties, and of the creation of the new Office of Student Protections and Title IX.
You, as a candidate for the mayor of Chicago, and I probably gather to say as a concerned citizen, also wrote a blog post about these issues. Will you talk a little bit about the issues?
TROY LARAVIERE: Sure. So what the Chicago Tribune found, first of all, was that Chicago Public Schools failed to protect students. And they failed to protect students in five different ways. First, they failed to conduct proper background checks. Second-. Or actually, they failed to conduct background checks to the level of specificity and detail that was needed for that situation.
Second, they failed to conduct proper oversight of schools, and their handling of sexual assault allegations. Third, they failed to notify other districts if someone who was accused of sexual assault left CPS for another district. They failed to notify those districts. Fourth, and they failed to track these incidents appropriately. As a matter of fact, they failed to track them at all. And as a former CPS principal, I know CPS tracks everything that they care about, because there are always speedy reports to principals about this piece of data, or that piece of data, or your trend in this or that. But they didn’t track this all-important phenomenon.
And fifth, what they found was that at the central office level, particularly at the law department, they had the law department investigate claims, or accusations of sexual harassment or assault or abuse with teachers on students, or staff to students. But then the law department would then in turn take what they learned from that investigation and then use it against the child when the child’s family sued the district for their negligence.
And so all of those things were at a central office level. At the school level what they found was that staff did not live up to their mandated reporter requirement. In Illinois, and I imagine all across the United States, there are state laws on the books that say when you hear, or when an allegation of sexual assault is made, you call the Department of Children and Family Services. And different states around the country have their equivalent to that department, and an equivalent rule. You have to call. And so what some principals decided to do was in lieu of calling, or before calling, investigate the claim themselves. Which is understand-. You can understand that inclination. So, let me look into this before I call, to make sure. But that’s not what the law requires. The law requires that you call DCFS immediately. And so what that leads back to is a failure of proper oversight for the district to make sure that the staff, the administrators, are properly trained in the details of how to handle a sexual assault allegation. So those are the, those are the things they found.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: Thank you. Your blog talks about primarily funding for Chicago Public Schools, and it being woefully understaffed, whereas in other districts in Chicago for a school of around 600 students you might have 60 staff members. But in Chicago you have a school of 600 students with maybe 40 staff members. And it sounds like there are two separate issues that certainly intersect, but two separate issues here. One around funding for staffing, and one around leadership related to mindset and the practices that school staff and central office staff are taking. Will you talk a little bit about the distinction between the two, and how you see those converge?
TROY LARAVIERE: Absolutely. So, what people are talking about in Chicago in relationship to these allegations, and to the district’s failure to protect students, they’re talking about policy changes. And I agree with almost everything I’ve heard in terms of policy changes. What I have decided to do was build people’s or raise people’s consciousness about another, another change that’s needed in order for the policy changes to work, and that’s adequate staffing. And as you mentioned, Chicago Public Schools is the most understaffed school district in the state of Illinois. We’re ranked 57 out of 100 school districts in the ratio of students to certified staff. And so that means you have one person in many schools doing six people’s jobs. And that same understaffing exists at the central office level.
And so let’s go back to those findings of the Tribune that make the connection. Failure to conduct detailed background checks. CPS conducts background checks, but it’s a computerized system. It’s, it’s, it’s kind of like a check off list. They have a list of categories of offenses if you have been found guilty of or convicted of, you cannot work for CPS. And so you either fit those categories or you don’t. Well, what the Tribune found is that when you go into these convictions, you find that someone may have pleaded down from a much more egregious charge. Or you look at the actual details of what the person did, the person may have-. In one case I think the person pushed someone down the stairs and almost killed the person, but got it, pleaded it down to something that wasn’t on CPS’s offence list. But if they actually went in and saw what the person did, which was not up for debate, you know, this is probably not someone you want working in a school.
But my point about staffing: if you’re just doing a checklist, that’s easy. If you need someone to go into each and every one of these offenses and look at the details of that, that means you need a human. You need, you need an army of people, because there are background checks being done all the time. And we have an administration in CPS under our mayor that has disinvested in staffing, disinvested in schools, done everything they possibly could to redirect money from students, from schools, from staffing, toward their campaign contributors.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: So where would you prioritize resources to make sure that staffing was a central focus, particularly staffing that ensured schools were safe and supportive environments, both because the school leadership and school staff was being properly trained, and also because there, the number of people both inside of the school buildings and central office, can support a highly-functioning school system? How would you reprioritize or change the way finances were spent in Chicago Public Schools?
TROY LARAVIERE: So we have this phenomenon in CPS where they actually complain about the need to pay teachers, for example. And I’ll make the connection, if you don’t see it already, that they’ll say, if we didn’t have to spend so much money on teachers, we could create a-. We could, we could spend more on classroom expenses. What is the biggest classroom expense? The teacher. It’s like saying, that, well, the biggest in terms of on the books as a principal, the biggest classroom expense, the thing you pay the most money for, is staff. It’s the teacher’s salary.
And so it’s like saying that, you know, the Washington Wizards could have a great basketball team if we, if we only, if we didn’t have to spend so much money on the player salaries, we can make the Washington Wizards a great basketball team.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: Doesn’t make sense.
TROY LARAVIERE: That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And it doesn’t make any sense in CPS either, in education, either. And so I would prioritize making sure that students have adequate staffing. Now, what does that look like in detail? That looks like investing in curriculum, and it looks like investing in instruction. And even in both of those, you’re talking about staffing.
And so if we expand curriculum, for example, that means our kids get the kind of education that Rahm’s kids get at the University of Chicago Lab School, where they take documentary film production, where they take drama, where they take theater, where they take drama, where they learn a world language from third through eighth grade. And so when you expand the curriculum it means hiring more staff to teach that curriculum. It means hiring people who are expert in those things.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: So, you’re talking a little bit about a specialized school that has resources that perhaps other schools don’t have. Some of the schools in this report from the Tribune are some of the premier schools in Chicago Public Schools. How would you propose to mitigate, or why do you think there was a culture where someone could be repeatedly brought back into the school? Or that there are schools that are supposed to be premier schools that have multiple staff members over time, during the course of this report, that are being reported for abuse of children?
TROY LARAVIERE: Yeah, I was actually working my way up to that. So I’m talking, we’re talking about prioritizing resources. I’m looking at the school district in general, and then working my way specifically into these allegations. And so the other thing that you invest in is instruction. Or the, increasing the capacity, increasing the capacity of the staff to do their job. Capacity building. For a teacher, capacity building looks like improving their ability to teach. For a principal, capacity building means improving their ability to conduct, to do instructional leadership, to make sure that district policies are being followed, and also to make sure, to make sure that the culture and climate of your building is one that supports learning. To make sure you are following the rules, and you have security personnel in place and doing the right things. Basically building your capacity and building your staff’s capacity to do their job.
One of those jobs, getting more specifically to your point, is keeping our students safe; following state and local laws and rules that are designed to make sure they are kept safe. For example, every summer we go to a law department seminar for three days in one of the brand new high schools in the city. And the law department reviews with principals the times where a principal-. They have these case studies where a principal messed up, or a staff member messed up, and it didn’t get caught. And so they review these things with us. But they’ve never reviewed, in my time there, any allegations of sexual assault, or the way a principal mishandled sexual assault, because apparently that wasn’t a priority, or apparently they weren’t tracking it.
And so if you’re going to track it, you have to dedicate resources to that. If you’re going to build principal’s capacity, it means hiring people who can do the training. People who are in risk management, and people who are in child advocacy. Bringing those two professions or those two areas together to ensure that principals and school staff know exactly what they need to do. And so in large part, school Y or district Y, we talk about investing in capacity building. Your capacity to do every aspect of your job. But then we take that down into the particular when we’re talking about student safety, and invest in those things that are targeted toward making sure students are safe, and building their capacity to do that. Did that answer your question?
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: It does. And at the top of this conversation, you spoke a little bit about one of the factors in this report, which was that the legal department doing the investigation of the accusation also would turn around and use those details against alleged victims of the abuse that has been reported. How would you reshape the leadership, or impart a sense of leadership, that prioritizes the safety of children at all levels, even with executives inside of the school district?
TROY LARAVIERE: And so this may not seem like a connection at the outset, but it is the most critical component whatsoever. And it’s changing our campaign finance laws. Because we have a mayor who prioritizes not the needs of students, he doesn’t prioritize the needs of students, because he prioritizes the needs of his campaign donors. He spends more than half his days-. The Tribune also investigated the mayor’s campaign finances. They had a front page article. And that article was titled “Rahm Emanuel’s Political Cash Machine.” In that article they show that 60 of his top 100 donors all got some kind of kickback, or some sort of benefit or contract, from either the school district or the city. Sixty of his top 100 donors. They also found that he spent more than half his days meeting with his donors. And they even tracked certain meetings, and then certain donations to his campaign, which then led to contracts from the city or the school system.
And so we see that’s how he spends the majority of his time and energy, because that is his focus. His focus is not on making sure kids are safe. His focus is on taking the resources that are meant for our children and redirecting those resources towards his campaign dollars. And so that leads to the closing of schools, right. That leads to a narrow curriculum. That leads to understaffing. And it leads you to neglect your responsibility to keep them safe. All of these scandals that have occurred under this mayor can be tracked back to one degree or another to the fact that he prioritizes his campaign donors over his responsibility to be a good steward over our city and our school system.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: Well, thank you, Troy LaRaviere. I appreciate your time. We look forward to tracking this race, and following up on both this issue related to supporting safe school environments for students, but also the race for mayor in Chicago, where we have a progressive candidate looking to unseat the current mayor. Thank you.
TROY LARAVIERE: Thank you for having me, Khalilah. I appreciate it.
DR. KHALILAH M. HARRIS: Although we’ve reached out both to Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Mayor’s office, we did not receive comment or response by the time of publication. We will continue to update you if that changes.
For The Real News, I’m Dr. Khalilah Harris. Thank you for your time, and we hope that you will continue to support our efforts to bring you independent news not sponsored by corporate or government dollars. To make a donation, go to www.TheRealNews.com/donate. Thank you.