Rahm Emanuel Owns Chicago's School Sexual Abuse Scandal
By John Kass
June 5, 2018
Rahm Emanuel isn’t bishop of Chicago. He’s the mayor of Chicago, for now.
But the shocking sexual abuse scandal at his Chicago Public Schools uncovered by the Tribune brings immediately to mind the sex scandals of the Roman Catholic Church.
Church leaders actively engaged in a cover-up over decades. The CPS abuse scandal seems more about the cost of bureaucratic indifference.
But the outcomes are terribly similar, aren’t they?
Children were raped and otherwise abused. Like the church, the school system seemed more concerned about protecting itself than putting the kids first.
Otherwise, CPS wouldn’t have waited years to act, until the Tribune was about to publish its investigation.
Background checks were ignored. Employees accused of sex crimes weren’t monitored. Emanuel’s school system didn’t even warn other districts about a Chicago educator removed for alleged abuse.
The Tribune investigative series “Betrayed” found hundreds of cases of students preyed upon by teachers, coaches and other school employees — in one case a girl was raped repeatedly — in a place where those children should be safe: at school.
This is a disaster for the mayor seeking re-election. It is why he’ll trot out his schools CEO Janice Jackson at every opportunity.
But he runs the schools. He picks the board.
Did the mayor approve of bureaucratic indifference and dysfunction that led to in-school rapes? No, of course not. But Emanuel is a father who loves his children. If he weren’t the mayor and had a child at a CPS school where predators were allowed to roam, he’d be the first to say that the mayor was responsible.
So this one is his.
“The Tribune series ‘Betrayed’ is appalling, and tragic and deeply disturbing,” said mayoral challenger Paul Vallas, a former CEO of CPS.
When Vallas ran the district 20 years ago, before background information was as readily available online as it is today, he established a 24-hour hotline for victims.
Vallas said the district adhered to the policy to notify police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services immediately when allegations surfaced.
But over the past several years, as the Tribune reported, police and social workers were not always notified. And the CPS Law Department, which handles lawsuits, was also tasked with investigating complaints. It is a stupendous conflict. And as a result, children were left vulnerable.
“Look, I was often accused of overreacting,” Vallas told me. “But there is no overreacting when it comes to child safety. This is a clear reflection of failure in leadership of CPS and that’s on Emanuel.”
Under Emanuel, the last schools chief, Forrest Claypool, resigned for ethical reasons. The one before him, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, was sentenced to prison on corruption charges.
CPS has just had its special education programs taken over by the state. A multimillion-dollar CPS custodial contract was given a failing grade — with roaches and rodents crawling through schools — but then the company received a contract expansion from Emanuel’s schools.
“It’s one controversy after another,” Vallas told me. “He ducks responsibility. The main problem is that his reactive micromanagement style produces a culture where politics takes precedent over everything else. When it comes to schools and Emanuel, there is a disturbing lack of accountability.”
Emanuel says he’s taking responsibility, but it was several days after the Tribune series was published online before he said so. Then he quickly put it on Janice Jackson.
By the time this all plays out, the cost won’t be borne by the broken child victims and their parents alone.
CPS’ practice of failing to monitor employees, and allowing suspected predators to leave for other school districts without warning those districts, as predatory priests were shipped off to other parishes, will cost Chicago taxpayers dearly.
There will be millions and millions of dollars being paid out by taxpayers in lawsuit settlements, and more lawyers will be out searching for more clients. An already fiscally weak school system will be pushed closer to bankruptcy.
Look for increased pressure on Emanuel’s hand-picked Chicago Board of Education to resign. If the board members remain, they’ll own this too. They know it and the mayor knows it.
It will give fuel to those who, like the school unions, want an elected school board that they can control.
And since the schools get federal money, look for the feds to get involved.
Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot rightly blamed Emanuel for this problem. Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union want an “independent” investigation. But let’s get real.
This is Chicago. There’s no such thing as an “independent” panel when it is selected by frightened politicians.
Better that the FBI get involved now, at least to secure school records. There has been a loud and legitimate cry in this country about keeping children safe from gun violence. Shouldn’t kids also be kept safe from predatory educators?
And shouldn’t school districts, in Chicago and across the nation, do more than just play politics?
For a different perspective I called Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, the respected chairman of the City Council’s progressive caucus.
“This is about more than politics, it’s a core issue of our humanity,” Waguespack said. “We’re calling for a City Council hearing on what the Tribune found. Every alderman should be demanding to have CPS there and the mayor’s people, too. He’s the boss. Emanuel is the mayor.”
And this belongs to him.
Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.