LOGAN SQUARE — Chicago Public Schools knew about allegations of sex abuse at a Logan Square school for years — and the district recently promoted a principal who knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it, records show.
One of 10 employees fired from Marine Leadership Academy for their roles in the sex abuse scandal uncovered last week was former principal Erin Galfer, who allegedly failed to report misconduct despite knowing about it for years.
But Galfer’s removal was not as clear-cut as CPS leaders have claimed. CPS knew Galfer was aware of the alleged abuse, but instead of firing the principal, they kept her on staff and promoted her to a top position within the district over the summer, records show. WBEZ and the Sun-Times were first to report on Galfer’s employment history.
An explosive inspector general report Friday revealed wide-ranging sexual abuse and a cover up at Marine Leadership Academy. The report describes sexual abuse and inappropriate contact between students and teachers, the “grooming” of students who later had personal relationships with staffers upon their graduation, sexual harassment and retaliation. The report also alleges those in charge attempted to cover up this behavior.
Galfer, who was principal of the school from 2015 to summer 2021, was part of the cover up, according to the report. Galfer was fired from CPS Nov. 5, a couple of weeks after the inspector general disclosed “the full extent” of its findings with district leaders, CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.
The inspector general report alleges Galfer and a security guard knew about a sexual relationship between a school employee and a student in an incident dating back to 2017, but didn’t report it to CPS officials. Galfer is also accused of failing to report another sexual relationship between a school employee and a former student in the 2018-2019 school year.
In the second case, Galfer waited to report the misconduct six months later — and only 15 minutes after a child welfare investigator came to the school to investigate other allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the report.
Galfer has strongly denied the allegations through her attorney, Jonathan Karmel.
“Notwithstanding [CPS CEO Pedro] 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 Friday.
“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.”
Though CPS has said the investigation into Marine Leadership Academy started in 2019, records show CPS leaders and attorneys knew about the sex abuse allegations — and about Galfer’s involvement in the scandal — as early as 2016.
The district also cited Galfer in 2015 and 2017 for allegedly failing to report inappropriate photos, according to WBEZ and the Sun-Times. In one incident, Galfer did not report that a student had a nude photo of a staff member and claimed she didn’t know the photo existed, WBEZ and the Sun-Times reported. In another, she failed to report a photo of a staff member holding a beer.
Galfer was working for the district’s college and careers office Downtown in a leadership position when she was terminated, records show. CPS promoted Galfer over the summer as investigators probed her behavior at Marine Leadership Academy.
Asked about the former principal’s employment history, Fergus, the CPS spokeswoman, said the district promptly fired Galfer after the inspector general recommended she be terminated.
Karmel declined to comment on Galfer’s employment history and instead questioned the legitimacy of the inspector general report, pointing to the 2018-2019 school year incident as evidence. In that case, a security guard lied to the inspector general and recanted his original statements about the sexual relationship between the former student and the school employee, the report said.
“They’re relying on perjured testimony. They’re selectively taking what testimony they want to use from an admitted liar,” Karmel said.
‘CPS Needs To Listen’
Moving forward, CPS is implementing a new policy requiring leaders to check with the inspector general and other “internal investigative teams” before promoting an employee who is the subject of a current investigation, Fergus said.
Martinez also “wants to work toward strengthening laws enforcing consequences for mandated reporters who fail to report abuse and neglect,” Fergus said.
The inspector general plans to release two more reports revolving around Marine Leadership Academy in the coming weeks — one with more abuse allegations and the other about “systemic and school culture issues.”
Outside of the school Tuesday morning, Logan Square Neighborhood Association leaders rallied in support of parents, students and other members of the school community who have been harmed by the abuse and cover up.
Problems at the school stem back to 2013, when CPS replaced Ames Middle School with Marine Leadership Academy over the objections of many in the community, Logan Square Neighborhood Association leaders said.
“The community said ‘no’ over and over again … And CPS moved forward anyway,” said Juliet De Jesus Alejandre, executive director of Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “And so this is an example, again, of communities having wisdom, families have wisdom about what safety means, and CPS … missing the opportunity to partner.”
De Jesus Alejandre, whose organization works closely with parents as part of its parent mentor program, said there is a “deep, deep fear” right now among Marine Leadership Academy parents following the sex abuse allegations — and student suicides. At least two students died of suicide in recent years, including seventh grader Emily Barrera, school employees have said.
“Wherever there isn’t trust, and wherever control and discipline are the only reasons for what you’re doing, you’re going to get an abuse of power,” De Jesus Alejandre said.
“CPS needs to listen to the wisdom of the community, the mental health professionals, the young people — what they need to repair that harm, to rebuild that trust and create cultures of consent in these schools.”
Block Club’s Colin Boyle contributed
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