LOGAN SQUARE — In the wake of a stunning inspector general report detailing a years-long sex abuse scandal at Marine Leadership Academy in Logan Square, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday blamed the pandemic for the slow pace of the investigation.
Asked about the scandal, Lightfoot told reporters she “became aware” of the investigation two or three weeks ago. The mayor went on to defend Chicago Public Schools leaders and the district’s inspector general, who have come under fire for taking action years after the investigation began.
“The challenge here is this: As I understand it, the CPS [inspector general] started investigating it sometime in 2019. And then COVID hit, so that investigation was delayed as a result of that,” Lightfoot said.
“I think the balance that has to be struck is if the [inspector general] flags there’s an issue, ‘issues’ don’t mean ‘facts’ yet. … Being prudent, obviously, CPS had to wait to get more information from the [inspector general] as to whether or not these allegations that were then subsequently investigated bore fruit.”
Lightfoot’s remarks come three days after the inspector general announced CPS has fired or is firing at least 10 employees at Marine Leadership Academy for their roles in the years-long sex abuse scandal, some who had inappropriate relationships with students and others who helped cover up that misconduct.
The inspector general released its report on Friday, which describe several sex abuse allegations at the Logan Square school.
In one incident, a school employee had a sexual relationship with a student after that student turned 18. In another, a school employee groomed a student and began a sexual relationship after that student graduated. The report also describes incidents in which an employee sexually harassed and retaliated against a student after the student filed a report, and a separate employee groomed a student and crossed boundaries with others.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was contacted at least 22 times since 2019 about allegations at Marine Leadership Academy, according to the inspector general report.
Six other staffers, including the principal, the assistant principal, head of security, a counselor and a teacher’s assistant, allegedly failed to report the allegations or actively hid the misconduct, according to the report.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said last week the district learned of the allegations in 2019. Martinez said the investigation took so long because the inspector general had a backlog of cases and staffing issues.
The inspector general report has sparked outrage and distress among the school community and the Chicago Teachers Union.
“I’m expecting my little sister to come here and be safe … and have people around her she can trust,” one woman, whose sister is in eighth grade at the school, said outside of the school Friday. “The fact that it’s happened to however many kids, it’s pretty sad. … This is the one place you feel like kids are gonna be safe.”
As the fallout continues, the inspector general plans to release two more reports about the allegations in the coming weeks, one revolving around “allegations against additional staff members and a volunteer that were not necessarily sexual in nature, but nonetheless violated CPS policies or guidelines intended to protect students from sexual abuse and sexual misconduct,” and another “analyzing the systemic and school culture issues uncovered” at the school.
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