Troy LaRaviere, Kimberly Gibson, Ben Crump and supporters including Father Michael Pfleger arrive at a press conference July 6, 2023. Credit: Noah Glasgow/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A coalition of lawyers, activists, former students and parents are demanding the reinstatement of at least three Black principals recently fired or reassigned by Chicago Public Schools.

At a press conference Thursday in front of CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison St., supporters of former principals Abdul Muhammad, Gerald Morrow and Kimberly Gibson said the three were “discriminated against and persecuted” by district administrators and white teachers.

All three administrators were removed from their schools within the last year. Muhammad was abruptly ousted from Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Englewood in March. Morrow was one of two Black administrators at Bronzeville’s Dunbar High School suspended in December. Gibson was ousted from Lakeview’s Harriet Tubman Elementary School, though it wasn’t immediately clear when.

Chicago Principals and Administrators Association president Troy LaRaviere demanded that Mayor Brandon Johnson reinstate the three to their former positions.

LaRaviere also called on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to “investigate the abusive and discriminatory patterns and practices of Chicago Public Schools” that he says led to the administrators’ removal. 

“If you’re a Black school leader, and you make the mistake of actually believing in the written rules — that your job is to supervise a predominantly white teaching force … and to hold them accountable — [CPS CEO] Pedro Martinez and the rest of CPS management will unleash a system on you that will smear your good name, and replace you with someone who will stay in their place,” LaRaviere said. 

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said district leaders had not given the ousted principals an opportunity to adequately defend themselves against claims of misconduct. Crump called it “a conspiracy to get rid of Black principals.” 

“Give these Black principals … a fair proceeding, where they can show that they have been falsely accused, and they can exonerate their good name, and they can get back to doing what they love to do,” Crump said.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump accused CPS of “a conspiracy to get rid of Black principals” at a press conference July 6, 2023. Credit: Noah Glasgow/Block Club Chicago

Crump and LaRaviere called on the Illinois State Senate and City Council to hold hearings on racial discrimination within CPS. They asked Johnson to suspend Martinez and other CPS officials implicated in discriminatory practices.  

In a statement, CPS officials said the district “does not release records or comment on ongoing investigations and disciplinary cases.”

Any employee under investigation is “given a full subject interview prior to the completion of the investigation, in which they have the opportunity to respond to all allegations against them in the presence of an attorney,” officials said.

Muhammad, Morrow, and Gibson were all given a full interview, CPS officials said.

“[W]e are confident in the decisions made by the leaders of our District,” the statement read. “The District has comprehensive procedures in place to thoroughly investigate allegations of staff misconduct, ensuring our employees are afforded proper due process, and make fair employment decisions.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Abdul Muhammad, former principal of Lindblom Math and Science Academy, has said he is the victim of a “witch hunt” and can disprove the district’s allegations against him. Credit: Noah Glasgow/Block Club Chicago

Muhammad was removed as Lindblom’s interim principal just eight months into his tenure. 

His time at the school had been turbulent. His decision to fire a beloved assistant principal early in the school year resulted in protests. The Chicago Board of Education twice postponed votes to offer Muhammad a standard four-year contract, The Triibe has reported

Muhammad’s dismissal followed “an investigation that substantiated findings” against the principal, according to a district letter sent to Lindblom parents. 

At the May school board meeting, Martinez doubled down on the district’s message and said Muhammad “had to be pulled” from Lindblom “for multiple reasons,” WTTW reported.

“We never pull an employee unless it’s something serious,” Martinez said.

Muhammad and his supporters have pushed back in recent weeks, saying he was the victim of a “witch hunt.” He said he identified more than 80 “false claims” from faculty and district leaders in a report he received from the district’s law department about his removal, and claimed he could disprove the allegations with “documented evidence.”

Block Club has not been able to review the report to verify the claims.

CPS officials have previously said the report remains private due to confidentiality in “personnel matters or ongoing investigations.”

Crump said Thursday he hopes to release the report to the press in the near future, alongside evidence Muhammad has gathered to refute its allegations. 

Chicago Principals and Administrators Association president Troy LaRaviere demanded that Mayor Brandon Johnson reinstate the three principals to their former positions. Credit: Noah Glasgow/Block Club Chicago

Morrow was one of two administrators removed from Dunbar as district officials investigated claims of misconduct. Local School Council members told the Sun-Times they were “blindsided” by the removals, and called on the district to share more information.

Morrow remains suspended from Dunbar.

LaRaviere said Thursday district officials removed Morrow for no reason and were “still looking” for misconduct allegations to point towards him. 

“They removed him with no report because they’re still looking, and they’re never going to find anything,” LaRaviere said.

Overseen by former Principal Mira Weber, Harriet Tubman Elementary was the first to change its name through the district’s review process, which launched after a Sun-Times report revealed 30 schools in the majority Black and Latino district are named after slaveholders. Students and parents had pushed for the name change for years, an effort that stalled until the broader racial justice movement in 2020.

But after seven months, the school saw a precipitous drop in enrollment and more than a dozen teachers left over allegations of mishandled safety complaints, the Tribune reported

This led the local school council to ask Martinez to begin dismissal proceedings against Gibson, according to the Tribune.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Gibson left her post. A new principal was in place as of mid-May, according to a letter sent to the school community.

Gibson said Thursday that teachers and other administrators had “conspired” to “get rid” of her during her brief tenure at Tubman. 

Gibson began crying Thursday as she recalled the fear and shock of receiving an anonymous text message that read, “Ms Gibson we finally got you u wont be here long n–––.”

Kimberly Gibson, former principal of Harriet Tubman Elementary School, said teachers and other administrators had “conspired” to “get rid” of her during her brief tenure. Credit: Noah Glasgow/Block Club Chicago

Crump said Thursday his team planned to “explore all legal avenues to get justice for these Black principals,” although no suit has yet been filed on behalf of the three principals.

Crump has previously represented the families of Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and George Floyd in civil cases. He is part of a civil suit against the James Sneider Apartments in West Rogers Park, where three Black women died during a heat wave last spring.

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: