KENWOOD — Students, staff and parents at King College Prep are calling for the ouster of their principal, citing a culture of fear, chaos and retaliation at the selective-enrollment school in Kenwood.
On Thursday — for the third time this year — King students staged a sit-in to protest many of the changes made by new Principal Melanie V. Beatty-Sevier, and demanding her resignation.
Multiple King College Prep teachers spoke with Block Club Chicago but asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation from CPS and Beatty-Sevier.
“This administration doesn’t like children,” one teacher said. “There is just no other way to say it. I have never seen Beatty-Sevier have a positive conversation with students.”
When the new principal started at King in July, she immediately made sweeping changes without consulting the school community, parents, staff and students said. Students who used to depend on getting to school at 6:30 a.m. to catch up on work or have a place to go before classes began now can’t get until the building until 7:15 a.m. Students are ushered out immediately after school as well, by 4 p.m. Previously, they could stick around until 7 p.m. to do homework or get extra help from teachers.
“A lot of us don’t have steady homes to go to and we need our school,” said junior class president Jonathan Williams. “School is the one place we want to be.”
When word got out that students planned another sit-in to protest Beatty-Sevier’s leadership, the administration called a surprise assembly Wednesday. School leaders said any student who participated in the sit-in would lose their membership in the National Honor Society and would not be allowed to attend a senior trip to Dave & Busters, according to teachers and students who attended attended the assembly.
One teacher, who said the school has already lost educators since the principal started, described a faculty in fear for their jobs and afraid to organize.
“Whenever we email the CPS network, they just forward our email back to Beatty-Sevier,” the teacher said.
Teachers cite a “lack of focus on academics,” saying the school feels like a jail due to a culture of punitive measures against students and faculty.
The tumultuous relationship with Beatty-Sevier began before she was ever hired. Former principal David Narain was ousted by the former Local School Council, a move that was widely unpopular with some parents and students.
When teachers conducted a staff survey on who should be principal, Beatty-Sevier received the lowest support with only 2 out of 51 staff members supporting her nomination. Narain received 31 votes of support.
But it was too late — even though a new slate of parents ran against the old Local School Council and won, the old group was able to confirm Beatty-Sevier as the next principal at King before the new school council was sworn in.
This is not the first time Beatty-Sevier has been in hot water. She received backlash in August for what CPS called “inappropriate comments” following the sexual abuse scandals at CPS. Beattie-Sevier chastised students and asked why students should be allowed to “dress provocatively.”
Students said that Beatty-Sevier has closed down the old computer lab that acted as a sort of library and study hall. Instead, students are barred from using it and have to use a small, windowless room that holds far fewer students. Additionally, furniture has been taken out of the student lounge and put away into storage.
“School is not only our place of educational safety, it’s a place where we can relax,” said senior and former class president Caleob Mitchell. “It’s our home away from home. And she took that from us.”
Mitchell said that many students at King are coming to school from “tough home lives.” In fact, the school has a significant population of students who are homeless.
Beatty-Sevier did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“She came in with an axe to grind,” said parent and current LSC member Natasha Erskine.
Erskine said that there has been almost no communication between Beatty-Sevier’s administration and parents. She said that they have yet to get any sort of notification in writing that describes the new policy changes implemented by the principal.
“We should be focusing on restorative practices, and her repeated response is to punish, and that concerns me,” Erskine said.
Erskine said that the LSC has felt largely ignored by CPS and LSC member Cassandra Bogan agrees. They have sent more than 50 letters to Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade and Network Chief Erick Pruitt, the women said.
“It’s an understatement to say I’ve been ignored by CPS,” Bogan said.
CPS refused to make McDade and Pruitt available for comment, or answer direct questions about Beatty-Sevier from Block Club Chicago, but issued the following statement:
“Empowering student voices is a priority at CPS, and the district is working closely with the school to ensure students have an opportunity to express themselves in a safe and respectful environment with minimal disruption to classroom learning.”
Bogan has considered moving her daughter to a different school, but she worries about the rest of the King community.
“I can move my kid,” she said. “But what about the other kids? What happens to the rest of them? Not all of them can run from this situation.”
Former LSC president Kwesi Kuntu said that Beatty-Sevier has not been given a fair chance to implement her policies. Although he described several surveys taken in support of Beatty-Sevier, Kuntu was unable to provide any documentation of such surveys. He said Beatty-Sevier is being railroaded by the King community.
“For people to say we stonewalled her is disappointing because our kids are at this school,” Erskine said. “There is no way we would do that to our kids.”
On Thursday morning, students at King attempted a sit-in but were ushered outside. Police were present and about 100 students were still protesting outside as of 9 a.m.
Teachers and students said that protesting students were being threatened with expulsion. Additionally, some reported that they received threats of losing their scholarships or membership in the National Honor Society.