$23 Million in Missing Devices, Criminal Charges and Sexual Abuse Investigations Detailed in CPS Watchdog’s Annual Report

(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

More than 77,000 electronic devices purchased by Chicago Public Schools, totaling some $23 million, were marked as lost or stolen in recent years according to the district’s watchdog, which blamed a “flawed” inventory and recovery process.

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Those findings were among numerous cases highlighted in an annual report published Tuesday by CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher, which examined investigations undertaken by his office between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.

“During this period, the (Office of Inspector General) received over 2,000 complaints of misconduct, waste, fraud, financial mismanagement, and adult-on-student sexual misconduct,” Fletcher’s office said in a statement. “The allegations ranged from relatively minor violations of Chicago Public Schools policies to criminal acts.”

Those cases included an assistant principal who was charged after allegedly stealing close to $275,000, numerous employees accused of fraudulently obtaining Paycheck Protection Program loans, eight cases of substantiated adult-on-student sexual assault, as well as the missing tech equipment.

CPS in response to the report said it takes seriously “our responsibility to protect the safety of our staff, students and families and to serve our CPS community with integrity, and protect our investments and resources.”

“We take seriously the findings and recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General,” a district spokesperson said in a statement, “and will continue to ensure our District policies and procedures support the highest ethical standards and that our employees act in the best interest of our students, the District and our city.”

Read the full report here.

According to the report, during the district’s first in-school inventory after students returned to normal in-person learning following COVID-19, CPS schools reported an “unacceptably” high percentage of electronic devices as having been lost or stolen.

When CPS switched to full remote learning amid the pandemic, CPS spent $165 million on tech devices including iPads, MacBooks and Windows devices to issue to students. In all, the OIG found that CPS schools had reported 77,505 devices missing, with the original purchase price of that equipment topping $23 million.

Many cases involved equipment that was assigned to students or staff and then never returned, without any consequence. The OIG found that at three dozen separate schools, 100% of tech devices assigned to students were marked as lost or stolen.

“Some students lost two, three, four, and even five tech assets, according to the 2021-22 inventory audit,” the report stated. “At one school, five devices assigned to one fifth-grade student were marked lost and four assigned to his first-grade sister also were designated lost, according to the entries of one inventory technician. At the same school, two sisters and a brother each were listed with three lost tech devices, the OIG found.”

(Chicago Public Schools' Office of Inspector General)(Chicago Public Schools' Office of Inspector General)

The report also puts some of the blame on the district itself, saying CPS “sometimes didn’t try hard enough to find or recover” the devices.

Not all devices that were marked as missing were gone forever, and many were legitimately lost, and then later found, according to the report.

But under district guidelines, a police report must be filed for every piece of missing equipment. The OIG said that process can be time consuming and, without actionable information, police did not recover a single missing device during this time, according to CPS officials cited in the report.

Fletcher’s office made 16 recommendations to the district regarding these issues, including rewriting its inventory management policy and improving inventory training; creating an amnesty period to recover items lost during the 2021-22 academic year; and making students and staff accountable for their assigned devices.

As of Monday, CPS has recovered more than 12,000 of the missing devices, nearly all of which were simply left in schools and missed during the previous inventory cycle. This district has disabled the missing devices and sent a message to return them to the schools.

CPS said that with a district of its size, “some device loss is expected.” But officials remain concerned about the overall loss numbers and say they are committed to improving the district’s tracking and device retention methods, including by implementing OIG recommendations.

According to the district, CPS has revised its asset management process and training, and is taking steps to expedite the recovery of missing devices by automating that process through its asset management system.

Assistant principal faces 17 charges

The report also details the OIG’s investigation into an elementary school assistant principal who allegedly stole nearly $274,000 from her school.

Fletcher’s office previously discussed this case in its 2021 annual report, which detailed how the employee — who is not identified in the report — had allegedly stole over $195,000 in school funds over the course of two years by embezzling parent payments for an after-school program and then issuing fraudulent checks to herself and her family.

The OIG referred the allegations to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and in June, the assistant principal was indicted on 17 criminal charges, including theft from a school, forgery and committing a continuing financial crimes enterprise.

The indictment alleges that the assistant principal stole a total of $273,364. She has pleaded not guilty and resigned her position.

During that investigation, the OIG recovered an additional $77,436 of parent fee payments that the assistant principal had allegedly diverted to her online bank account, and another $51,000 in parent payments that the school’s administration had lost track of.

Sexual abuse investigations

During the timeline of the OIG’s report, its Sexual Allegations Unit (SAU) substantiated eight cases of adult-on-student sexual abuse, and investigated other misconduct ranging from sexual harassment to nonsexual conduct that is says raise “the appearance of impropriety or possible grooming concerns.”

Since its inception in 2018, the SAU has opened 2,188 cases. Of those, it has closed a total of 1,768 and substantiated policy violations in 363 investigations.

Of the 446 complaints submitted to the SAU during this time period, 67% fell into a “nonsexual category” regarding improper boundaries between staff and students, while the other 33% alleged sexual abuse, physical contact, sexual communications or grooming.

(Chicago Public Schools' Office of Inspector General)(Chicago Public Schools' Office of Inspector General)

Seven percent of the total complaints investigated by the SAU during this report’s timeline alleged sexual abuse or acts by CPS-affiliated adults directed towards CPS students.

The OIG has recommended that CPS improve vendor and volunteer training surrounding its sexual misconduct policies, as Fletcher’s office has observed “significant inconsistencies” in that process.

“The vast majority of these individuals are valued members of their respective school communities whose interactions with students comply with CPS policies,” the OIG said in a statement. “However, over the past five years, the OIG has closed 138 investigations into misconduct among vendor employees and volunteers, and determined that at least 53 individuals violated CPS policies.

“This includes 31 vendor employees and volunteers who were found to have engaged in some type of sexual misconduct, ranging from sexual comments directed at students to sexual abuse.”

CPS said it is committed to ensuring a safe learning environment for our students and staff and intends to “continue our efforts to improve our processes to better serve our school communities.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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