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CPS Investigating Jones College Prep Amid Clashes, Complaints About Unequal Treatment For Boys And Girls Sports

Students and teachers say there's a pattern of discrimination at the prestigious CPS school, including a recent uproar involving the track teams. CPS is probing potential Title IX violations in Jones' athletic department.

Jones College Prep at dismissal on March 16, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH LOOP — Chicago Public Schools is investigating Jones College Prep for potential violations of federal sex discrimination laws connected to its sports teams, part of a broader conflict at the prestigious school where students have complained of mistreatment and leaders are pushing to fire the longtime principal.

CPS officials confirmed this week the district’s Office of Student Protections and Title IX is investigating the athletic department at Jones, 700 S. State St. The department is probing alleged violations of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs. A spokesman did not offer specifics, citing an ongoing process.

District leaders would not say when they launched a Title IX investigation, but they said the inquiry was ongoing before local school council members contacted the district in February.

Members of Jones’ local school council reported Principal Joseph Powers to the district in February, alleging, among other things, that he allowed conditions to persist where unequal resources were dedicated to boys and girls sports. Council members also contacted CPS officials in December, highlighting what they said was poor oversight for fundraising that made it difficult to ensure money was being distributed fairly for clubs and athletic teams.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jones College Prep at dismissal on March 16, 2022.

Some said a recent uproar involving the track teams encapsulates a troubled environment that marginalizes minorities at the selective-enrollment school.

A runner who is female and white — one of the highest ranked runners in the state — seeking tougher training was allowed to practice with the boys squad, then was kicked off the girls team last month by a coach, who is Black. Principal Powers, who is white, then overruled the coach and reinstated the student-athlete. The conflict led the girls track coach to quit, and sparked accusations of racism and favoritism.

“If we’d had better leadership in place, all of this could’ve been avoided,” said Roberto Menjivar, a local school council member whose daughter is on the track team.

More broadly, students, parents and teachers have repeatedly questioned school leaders about how Jones supports boys and girls sports. The council members who reported Powers to CPS said there has been vastly disparate funding and equipment access for athletes, particularly between the baseball and softball teams, as well as the boys and girls track teams.

The council voted last week to begin the process of removing Powers after a tense, seven-hour meeting. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez has 45 days to weigh on the council’s decision. Some local school council members are holding a news conference Thursday to urge the schools chief to fire Powers, who has led Jones for 14 years.

Powers did not return multiple requests for comment.

‘Worried About The Integrity Of The Team’

The track team conflict peaked in February after the girls track coach, William Reeves, removed Evelyn Hett from the team. Hett, a junior who also runs cross country, has broken school records in recent months and had been allowed to join boys practices in May, she said.

Reeves declined to comment, referring a reporter to comments he made about the situation at a Feb. 22 local school council meeting. Evelyn Hett and her mom, Suzanne Hett, also spoke about the issue at the February meeting.

Coaches allowed the training arrangement because none of Hett’s teammates ran at her pace, the teen said. Hett said she’d often been training by herself, and joining the boys practice provided her with training partners and the support necessary for her to meet her goals during the 2021 track and cross country seasons, she said.

“My new training partners welcomed me and supported me. … This transition was very beneficial,” Hett said.

Reeves, the girls coach since 2019, said at the meeting he agreed to the arrangement as long as Hett still attended girls team practices. When Hett didn’t show up for practices and stopped communicating with him, he removed her from the roster, Reeves said.

But Hett’s mother, Suzanne Hett, said under the arrangement it was agreed Hett wouldn’t show up for girls practices. She was also recovering from an injury, her mother said.

The Illinois High School Association affirmative action policy allows athletes of different genders to train together “if both the boys and girls seasons for that sport occur at the same time,” which they do in track and field, a spokesperson for the group said in a statement.

Reeves said at the council meeting he talked to other coaches to ensure he “wasn’t making an emotional decision” by removing Hett. He said he no longer felt she needed the individualized plan because a new coach, Tanner Beebe, had been added to the program. Beebe ended up replacing Reeves.

“I wanted to make sure this was by the book,” Reeves said. “Not one person said I did the improper thing. The policy says a student has to be removed after seven absences. I was following the policy.”

Hett, her parents and members of the boys team appealed to Powers, who overruled Reeves to let Hett rejoin the girls team, according to an email the principal sent Feb. 10. Powers decided Hett had to sit out two meets Feb. 10 and 12, but she would alternate training with the boys and girls teams going forward.

Reeves immediately announced his resignation, effective at the end of the school year. Reeves said Hett was allowed to go “over his head” to Powers, which he said highlights the lack of support students and staff of color receive from administrators.

“I’m worried about the integrity of the team. It’s very black and white for me,” Reeves said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jones College Prep at dismissal on March 16, 2022.

Many backed Reeves and criticized administrators for subverting the decisions of a Black coach.

“This level of involvement of outside forces contributes to an already existing culture that undermines the professionalism and expertise of our colleagues of color,” science teacher Peter Podlipni told the school council in an email. “I believe this culture is a significant contributing force in this conflict, and I hope that this does not get lost in this discussion.”

Hett said at the meeting this conflict has been distressing and all she wanted was the best training available. She said she wants to run for a Division 1 college.

“I hope that I, along with other members of the track team, can focus on what we should be focused on: running to the best of our ability,” Hett said.

Others said Powers and his administration never addressed the issues that made it necessary for Hett to seek more regimented training she couldn’t get on her team.

Jennifer Ritter and Gabe Gonzalez, whose daughter is leaving the squad because of the turmoil, said they felt this was about more than “the choices made by a single athlete and her family.”

“We believe it was not those choices, but why those choices had to be made that is at the heart of the problem,” Ritter and Gonzalez said in a statement to the school council. ” … We are concerned that the girls teams have been under resourced and inequitably resourced in a way that is possibly a violation of law, and clearly a violation of the spirit of the community we expected when our daughter chose to attend Jones.”

In the wake of the controversy, administrators and coaches opted to unite the boys and girls teams “for the purposes of practice, training and conditioning,” Powers wrote in an email to the community Feb. 14. He said the merger would “provide even greater equity in terms of coaching and other resources between the two teams.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jones College Prep at dismissal on March 16, 2022.

‘My Daughter Just Wanted To Run’

Students, parents and coaches said there is glaring disparity in resources between the girls and boys teams, according to emails sent to the school council.

Some said parents and coaches of girls teams were paying out of pocket for equipment and uniforms. A softball player emailed the school council in November saying the team did not have a coach. That student also said the team asked to join a workout with the baseball team — which has six coaches, according to its roster — but was turned down.

Members of the girls cross country team said they were being mistreated, and their coach was being denied access to school facilities and funding, according to emails to the school council. Parents said long-distance runners on the girls track team also had no coach for part of last season, relying on cross country coaches for help.

Beebe — who replaced Reeves as head coach — told the council his athletes needed to be able to visit the school’s athletic trainer and use the pool for recovery training. Beebe said they also need at least two more coaches for sprint and field events, but Jones was struggling to recruit because that person would only be paid through an “end-of-season stipend.”

“I cannot afford to work without pay for the season’s duration, and other candidates may face a similar hurdle,” Beebe wrote in an email.

Jon Korfmacher, whose daughter is on the track team, also wrote to the council, saying there appeared to be “preferential treatment for boys sports teams at the expense of the girls teams,” and boys were given “preference in coaching … and other resources that should not be allowed under Title IX regulations.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jones College Prep at dismissal on March 16, 2022.

School council members Cassie Creswell, Sarah Ma and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth reported some of these issues to CPS in December. They said sports team fundraising isn’t being properly monitored or vetted, so “there is no information about where these funds have come from and no way to verify that they are being used properly,” the trio wrote.

Menjivar said some boys teams are fundraising “at a substantially higher level to cover training and support.”

“Some of the boys teams have three times the money in their coffers than the girls teams,” Menjivar said. “I’m not trying to take away from the boys. I’m just saying: We’re one team and one community. Why can’t we share?”

Korfmacher said at the meeting when parents like him “open their pocketbooks” to fill the funding gaps, they get unfairly blamed for the imbalance.

“Think about a collective solution for getting resources that can be dispersed more fairly,” Korfmacher said.

It is unclear whether the boys and girls track teams will continue training together, coaches told the school council. Menjivar said the boys coaches had welcomed the girls and are trying to provide a supportive training environment.

One student said in a February email she and some of her teammates weren’t happy with the compromise, saying it was causing scheduling problems that still meant girls were not getting proper training, access to coaches, support at meets and help for injuries.

” … The girls team was thrown into the boys team as a quick fix,” the student said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jones College Prep at dismissal on March 16, 2022.

As for the Hetts, they are trying to move forward. Suzanne Hett said she thinks her daughter was “used as a pawn” by a council determined to force out Powers.

“If Powers hadn’t reversed his decision, they would’ve found a way to use it against him,” Hett said.

Evelyn Hett ran her first race in nearly six months last weekend, a victory itself given the past few months, her mother said. Friends and teachers have rallied around her to offer support. Suzanne Hett said the turmoil has damaged her daughter’s high school experience.

“My daughter just wanted to run,” Suzanne Hett said.

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