A Safe Passage worker asked a girl on her way to school to tell him when she turned 18, wishing aloud that she were younger. A security officer at a charter high school texted a 17-year-old student to contact him when she was “legal.”

A security officer at an elementary school gave students his Snapchat username and asked one eighth grade girl if she was interested in him romantically.

A student re-engagement specialist kissed, groped, bought beer and used cocaine with an 18-year-old student, who he also asked for a nude photo and said he wanted to have sex with.

A special education teacher was charged with sexually assaulting an eighth-grade boy. A charter high school basketball coach was charged with sexually assaulting two students. A school bus driver was charged with sexually abusing three students.

One student was invited to visit the morgue with a JROTC volunteer who she discovered was on the state sex offender registry, for a crime committed at a cemetery.

Their cases, which hint at the wide range of alleged sexual misconduct experienced by Chicago Public Schools students, are among many described in an annual report released this week by CPS Inspector General William Fletcher.

During fiscal year 2020, its first full year since opening in October 2018, the inspector general’s Sexual Allegations Unit completed 267 investigations and opened 434 cases. Before, the district’s law department investigated most sexual misconduct cases involving CPS-affiliated adults, but that became the OIG’s responsibility after the Tribune’s “Betrayed” series documented mishandled cases “in part due to inherent conflict-of-interest concerns,” the report notes.

Through February 2020, when monthly intake peaked at 80 cases, the office was receiving complaints at a higher rate than the previous year, but that trend reversed after schools closed for in-person learning in March.

Cases opened during the 2020 fiscal year included 58 allegations of touching that fell short of sexual abuse, 37 allegations of grooming, 30 allegations of a sexual act involving penetration, 29 of physical sexual abuse, 10 of sexual comments in person, eight of students initiating inappropriate behavior toward a staff member, and six of sexual electronic communication. Another five cases were considered “outcry about past conduct” and three were for violating the district’s mandatory reporting policy.

Among cases closed last year, 108 substantiated misconduct and 159 were unsubstantiated. Of 140 staff members pulled from schools while under investigation, 38 have been reinstated and 47 either quit or were fired.

While only 34 substantiated investigations were summarized in the 2019 annual report, the increase in the 2020 report is reflective of how much time it takes to complete an investigation, along with higher staffing levels of investigators, lawyers and intake specialists brought on “to address the flood of complaints received after the SAU’s formation,” according to the report. More than 500 cases were opened between October 2018 and September 2019.

Many of the investigations closed this year were opened in 2018 and 2019, and much of the conduct highlighted in the report as “particularly severe” predates last school year.

In one case opened in 2019, a registered sex offender was able to start volunteering for a JROTC program without going through the district’s background check process, attending events at several military schools and purporting to represent a veterans’ group that awards scholarships. Though he did belong to the group, he did not have authority to communicate about scholarships to students, according to the report.

But JROTC instructors started referring students to him for scholarship and employment help. He would build rapports with female students, then try to cultivate sexual relationships, according to the report.

”He preyed on female students without providing the guidance for which they sought him out,” states the report, which does not name the volunteer. “Under the false pretense of discussing scholarship and employment opportunities, the volunteer had phone calls with several female students during which he made sexually explicit comments. He also arranged meetings with the female students, during which he engaged in unwanted physical contact.”

He threatened to withhold scholarship opportunities if one student told anyone about his conduct.

Other times, he claimed to be a medical professional and offered to implant an intrauterine device for one student and to perform a gynecological exam for another, lying to her by saying it was a prerequisite for job or internship opportunities, according to the report.

“Fortunately, the investigation determined that the volunteer did not actually perform any of these exams or procedures,” according to the report.

A student searching his name on the internet found it on Illinois’ sex offender registry for aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving luring a female to a cemetery under false pretenses in the 1990s.

“Just before the student discovered the volunteer’s status as a registered sex offender, she made arrangements with the volunteer to visit a morgue,” according to the report. “He had previously told the student that he did freelance work for funeral homes and wanted to transfer his business to the student after she graduated. The student canceled their plans to visit the morgue after she discovered that the volunteer was a registered sex offender.”

She also told administration about his status, and the district banned him.

The inspector general further recommended that the district notify all JROTC staff and students, along with female graduates affiliated with the JROTC program for the last three years. CPS asked schools with JROTC programs to notify their staff and students, but has not confirmed that it notified the graduates, according to the report.

The sex offender evaded a background check because he never went through the application process to become a CPS volunteer, which the report calls “a widespread failure.”

“The failure to ensure that he submitted to that application process with the requisite background check could not fairly be laid at the feet of any one staff member,” the report states. “… Notably, though CPS’s volunteer policy states that principals are responsible for vetting and approving volunteers, the policy does not direct CPS staff that they must get clearance from their principal prior to engaging a volunteer.”

The OIG recommended updating the volunteer policy to require principal clearance for volunteers, and the district is considering revisions, according to the report.

The report notes that the Chicago Police Department has a pending investigation, but CPD officials have not provided additional information.

In the case of the special education teacher accused of sexually assaulting the eighth-grade boy, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and CPD both closed investigations after the student denied that the teacher had abused him, according to the new watchdog report. But the inspector general kept investigating and found more than 12,000 cellphone communications between the teacher and student, who then disclosed the sexual abuse, the report said.

According to the OIG, the conduct meets the state’s definition for criminal sexual assault.

“The student was not only legally unable to consent given his age, but the evidence indicated that the teacher pressured the student into having sex with her after he declined her advances,” according to the report.

The police and DCFS reopened their investigations, and the teacher was charged with three counts of sexual assault, which are pending in Cook County court, according to the report. The teacher resigned, and the Chicago Board of Education designated her ineligible for rehire. The Illinois State Board of Education also suspended her teaching license, the report states.

hleone@chicagotribune.com

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