Of the more than 170 open cases the Illinois State Board of Education has of educator misconduct from around the state, 40 of them deal with allegations of a sexual nature.
That number was revealed in Chicago during an hours-long joint House and Senate education hearing in the aftermath of reports from the Chicago Tribune raising questions about how dozens of sex abuse cases over a decade were handled at Chicago Public Schools.
ISBE Assistant General Counsel Angela Brancato provided details about the number of open cases across Illinois.
“We always prioritize the sexual abuse cases, the grooming, the excessive social media contact, anything where there’s excessive interest in a student that’s outside of the student/teacher relationship,” Brancato said.
Brancato couldn’t immediately provide a breakdown of where the cases originated.
The other 130 cases deal with other misconduct allegations such as drug use or petty crimes.
ISBE General Counsel Stephanie Jones said lawmakers need to close a loophole on when a district can reveal disciplinary action. Existing state law prohibits school districts from disclosing such records after four years.
“So if four years later somebody requests information about a teacher, the school district cannot disclose it,” Jones said.
Jones said she’s trying to get more info from CPS on 163 school professionals reportedly on a do-not-hire list who landed jobs at public charter schools.
State lawmakers heard testimony from Chicago Public Schools sex abuse victim Morgan Aranda. She said she reported her abuse by a teacher and later found her credibility being questioned by school administrators and a union lawyer.
“His lawyer appointed by the Chicago Teachers Union – a board meant to ensure teachers have all the adequate tools to do their jobs, not protect sex predators from losing their jobs – effectively called me a liar,” Aranda said in tears.
Tamara Reed, another CPS student who said she was sexually abused by a substitute teacher when she was in the eighth grade, told lawmakers that CPS administrators asked her repeatedly what she was wearing at the time and whether she said anything to encourage her abuser.
Chicago Children's Advocacy Center Char Rivette said there needs to be a child advocate involved in this type of questioning.
“Our job is to make sure that they are cared for throughout this process so that the truth can come out in a way that does not traumatize that child further,” Rivette said.
Aranda said she was angry that her abuser was still getting a pension.
“I think you need to stop hiring sex predators and I think you need to fire sex predators and I think you need to not pay sex predators a pension,” she said.
Lawmakers have already filed legislation aimed at reforming some of the practices exposed by reporters from the Chicago Tribune.
“I want to see in any piece of legislation that comes out of this, anybody who is accused of doing this and has any reason to suspect that they actually did it, those people are going to lose their pensions if I have anything to say about it,” state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said.
Chicago Public Schools officials told lawmakers about policy changes they said wouldn’t have come about without the revelations from the Tribune investigation. CPS CEO Janice Jackson didn't attend Wednesday’s hearing.
“CPS needs to clean house,” state Rep. Mary Flower, D-Chicago, said.
Lawmakers already have filed several bills to address the issue of sex abuse in all of the state’s 850 school districts, but plan to refine measures for future action.