13 adults at CPS school accused of sexual misconduct or covering it upNader Issaon November 19, 2021 at 10:12 pm

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said Friday there was a “culture of behavior” at Marine Leadership Academy that is “not tolerated by our district.”

The Chicago Public Schools inspector general has substantiated allegations against 13 adults at the Marine Leadership Academy for either committing or covering up sexual misconduct dating back more than two years, district officials revealed Friday.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a morning news conference at the district’s downtown headquarters that he only found out about the investigation late last month and insisted other central office officials did not previously know the widespread nature of the allegations.

That’s even as the former principal of the Logan Square school, Erin Galfer, was promoted to a district administrator position this June while the investigation was ongoing. She was one of the employees later found to have failed to report misconduct and has since been fired, Martinez said.

CPS’ Law Department and its Office of Student Protections and Title IX, however, are the ones that remove employees from their schools for misconduct allegations — the inspector general doesn’t have that power and can only recommend removal. District officials and attorneys removed several employees from Marine Leadership Academy between early 2019 and summer 2021.

“The district wasn’t made aware from the inspector general’s office until just recently on Oct. 20, the nature of all the allegations,” Title IX coordinator Camie Pratt said. “And so we weren’t aware until then, and that’s when we took action.”

It’s common practice for the inspector general’s office to inform district officials and the Law Department during an investigation of any new allegations or details that would warrant the removal of an employee. The inspector general took over all adult-on-student sexual misconduct investigations in 2019 after a Chicago Tribune series detailed the district’s widespread mishandling of cases.

CPS inspector general Will Fletcher didn’t immediately comment. His office’s findings are expected to be released later Friday.

Galfer’s attorney, Jonathan Karmel, said CPS “falsely stated that our client … failed to report the sexual misconduct” at Marine Leadership Academy.

“Notwithstanding Mr. Martinez’s attempt to create a false narrative, the tragic failure at Marine falls directly at the feet of CPS who long knew about the misconduct and did not take timely steps to protect the students,” Karmel said in a statement.

“Instead, Erin was wrongly terminated and looks forward to restoring her reputation and, more importantly, holding CPS responsible for its endemic failures to protect CPS students.”

Martinez told reporters there was a “culture of behavior and distrust that occurred at Marine Leadership Academy that is not tolerated by our district.”

Martinez and Pratt would not say the exact number of student victims, only that it was fewer than a dozen.

One allegation involved a teacher having a sexual relationship with a student who had turned 18 — conduct that led to that teacher’s removal but doesn’t constitute a crime under Illinois law because the student was over the age of consent, Martinez said. He said he would lobby Illinois lawmakers to make it illegal for school workers to have sex with students no matter their age.

Another case had to do with a teacher grooming a student then having sex after that student graduated. The district defines grooming as an adult breaking down a student’s inhibitions for the purpose of sex. In one of those two cases, the investigation uncovered texts from a teacher to a student saying, “I can’t wait until you turn 18,” Martinez said.

Both teachers were pulled from the school in 2019 when the inspector general began investigating.

Two other instances of misconduct involved grooming and sexual harassment of students by a staff member and a volunteer. The rest of the adults who have now been removed and either already fired or face firing were found to have failed to report misconduct.

“The behavior uncovered by this investigation represents a stunning betrayal of trust and colossal failure of judgement and character on the part of far too many individuals,” the schools chief said.

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