Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a five-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.
This afternoon will see some snow showers and a high near 34 degrees. Similar weather is expected tonight with a low near 32. Expect scattered flurries tomorrow — also with a high near 34.
There appear to be widespread problems with the tracking of truant students at Chicago Public Schools, according to an inspector general report released this morning that said chronic absenteeism is likely being masked by some administrators aiming to make their schools look better.
The misreporting of truant students as missing, dropouts or outgoing transfers in many cases means schools didn’t properly check on children’s whereabouts and attempt to re-engage them with their classes as required, the report said. The investigation looked at issues prior to the pandemic but the practice likely worsened when schools closed and, by some estimates, CPS needed to reconnect with up to 100,000 children who weren’t regularly engaged with school.
There’s a reason administrators might want to hide truancies: The district’s school rating system, currently suspended and under reform, has penalized schools for high absenteeism and dropout rates. Critics have often called the rating system punitive and inequitable.
“The schools are entrusted to provide this information to the district. And at the same time, they are rated on absenteeism, and they have an incentive to have a low absenteeism rate,” Inspector General Will Fletcher said in an interview. “It calls for better centralized monitoring and oversight of the data that’s coming out of those schools. And thus far, we haven’t seen that happen.”
CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said in a statement that the district is creating a team to improve data reporting around transfers and dropouts and support students and schools on transfers.
The investigation, included in the CPS Office of Inspector General’s annual report that details its biggest cases of the past year, reviewed records from the 2018-19 school year, the last full one before the pandemic. State law and CPS policy require accurate recordkeeping of any student who leaves a school’s enrollment.
Investigators started with an unnamed elementary school that reported a particularly high rate of transfers, saying administrators there “deliberately miscoded students who were truant as transfers or lost children so that these students’ absences would not count against the school’s attendance rate.” A school culture coordinator and two clerks were found to have been regularly removing truant students from enrollment by recording them as transfers, the report said. In one school year, 20 kids were recorded as transfers but the school had no supporting documentation. Emails showed that in many cases, staff knew the student was actually truant.
Truant students who are mislabeled as transfers are unlikely to receive the support and re-engagement efforts from the district as they otherwise would.
The investigation further found evidence that these problems spread district-wide and “call into question the reliability of transfer and dropout data that CPS uses in calculating key metrics such as attendance and graduation rates.” A review of 100 schools’ records found 36 that had falsely reported to CPS that they had verified a student transfer. In those cases, the schools didn’t have the required records showing the student had actually transferred to a new school.
That misreporting was originally flagged by CPS officials when the district began auditing schools’ self-reported transfer data in 2018.
More news you need
A witness told investigators a 9-year-old boy pointed a gun at his head and accidentally shot himself inside a crowded Washington Heights home on New Year’s Day, according to a police report. The account of the shooting came from another child who told investigators that Jarvis Watts was playing with the gun when it went off Sunday evening inside a bedroom at a home, the report states.The mother of 8-year-old Cooper Roberts has shared new details about his recovery after he was wounded six months ago in the July 4 parade massacre in Highland Park. Cooper was shot in his spine and paralyzed below his waist in the shooting. Our David Struett has more on Cooper’s recovery here.One of the country’s most influential civil rights organizations has sent a scathing letter to city officials insisting a Chicago police officer be fired for associating with members of the far-right Proud Boys then lying to investigators. The Southern Poverty Law Center said CPD must do a better job rooting out extremism in its ranks.A businessman convicted in an extortion trial nearly five years ago that revolved around the “vicious” beating of a west suburban restaurant owner over a $50,000 debt has been sentenced to six years in prison. The 39-year-old has already served much of that time, having been held in custody since his May 2018 conviction, our Jon Seidel reports.Following an FDA rule change expanding the availability of abortion pills earlier this week, both Walgreens and CVS say they will seek certification to distribute one of the medications. Once certified, both drugstore chains will be able to fill prescriptions for mifepristone, which can be used to terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks along.Today’s CPS inspector general report also touched on the district’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, noting freshman enrollment in the controversial military-run training program has plummeted. The drop comes after CPS leaders cracked down on schools that were effectively forcing first-year students to participate, the report said.Additionally, CPS’ watchdog reported today that district officials are trying to recoup more than $56,000 from a family who’s accused of lying about their residency to send their daughter to a highly competitive city high school. The student attended Northside College Prep from 2019 until last month, but actually lived with her mother in suburban Lincolnwood, the report said.Some two dozen tenants who say they were left shivering inside their chilly Logan Square apartments for two weeks in December are withholding half a month’s rent in protest. The renters say they shouldn’t have to pay rent for the two weeks their apartments weren’t habitable, our Stefano Esposito reports.An Oak Park building where clergy once lived has been transformed into an emergency overnight shelter. The shelter at 38 N. Austin Blvd. will serve a hot dinner and a continental-style breakfast to up to 10 guests, who will also receive a bagged lunch when they leave.With a very literal backdrop of the 95th Street Bridge on the Southeast Side, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Chicago yesterday to tout the impact of the Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. The funding includes a $144 million grant to rehab four bridges along the Calumet River.A Louisiana man has filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, accusing the carrier of committing breach of contract when it offered him and other passengers credit instead of refunds for flights canceled during last month’s winter storm. The proposed class-action lawsuit, filed in New Orleans federal court on Dec. 30 by Eric Capdeville, is seeking damages for passengers on flights canceled since Christmas Eve.
A bright one
Chicago is looking for its first official poet laureate.
The mayor’s office, in partnership with the Chicago Public Library, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Poetry Foundation, announced the creation of the city’s inaugural Chicago Poet Laureate program yesterday.
The chosen poet will serve a two-year term and be awarded a grant of $50,000 for the commissioning of new poems and to create a public program series, including programs for youth and students, the mayor’s office said.
The poet will also serve as an ambassador for the city’s literary and creative communities.
Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file
Nominations can be submitted online through Jan. 18. The nominee can be a poet in either written or spoken traditions but must have “at least four published works and/or performances in established publications,” according to the city’s website, which lists other eligibility requirements. Self-nominations will be accepted.
The nominees will be reviewed according to the eligibility criteria, and those who are eligible will be invited to apply.
The winner will be formally appointed in the spring. In April, which is National Poetry Month, the laureate will present work as part of the Chicago Public Library’s annual Poetry Fest
From the press box
Your daily question?
Are you participating in Dry January? Tell us why.
Send us an email at [email protected] and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.
Yesterday we asked you: How are you feeling about the upcoming mayoral election?
Here’s what some of you said…
“Looking forward to casting my ballot again for Lori. I believe she is trying her best. Chicago isn’t easy. No one can stop the crime wave. People have to stop themselves. It won’t happen no matter who is mayor.” — Kimberly Gray
“There are actually three candidates that I could be happy with. Usually, it’s a choice between bad and worse.” — Mark Mardell
“Not optimistic. We’ve done a poor job in electing mayors going back decades. This cycle’s choices don’t excite me. Looks like more of the same.” — Howard Moore
“I feel underwhelmed because we are not producing viable political talent in this city. It’s not about Mayor Lightfoot; it’s about the lack of options that we have for leadership. Chicago used to be a political powerhouse back in the day. Now, it’s an oligarchy.” — Zeke Razby
“I see a lot of candidates but really no action plans. Lots of talk, not a lot of substance. I guess that is just politics right?” — Bob Black
“A little overwhelmed because we just finished with the midterm elections and now we’re being thrown into another one.” — Jackie Waldhier
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