CPS Watchdog: Cook County Jail School Falsified Attendance, Credit Rates | Chicago News



(Thomas Hawk / Flickr)

An alternative high school located in Cook County Jail has been tampering with its enrollment and graduation figures for years, giving full course credits to students who no longer attend school, including a teenager who was shot and killed at the start of the semester, according to Chicago Public Schools Legal Watchdog.

The district inspector general’s office on Tuesday released its findings in a new report, which says the school improperly kept nearly 350 students on its rosters between the 2012-13 and 2015-16 school years.

“On average, these students were falsely listed as being enrolled in school for 42 days after release from prison,” the OIG report says. “In 54 cases, these students were kept on the lists more than 100 days after their release.”

The school is not mentioned by name in the report, but the description and school quality report indicators listed match those of York Alternative High School. This was later confirmed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. This school received five out of five points last year in its school quality assessment report for both its average daily attendance rate (92.5%) and credit completion rate ( 85.4%).

Click here to read the full OIG report.

These rates were among the highest for comparable alternative options / schools in the district.

CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s review began after a former student, who was killed in a shooting a week after his release from prison, was reportedly found on the school’s attendance list after his release, up to and including the day of his death.

The report states that this student briefly took three courses prior to his release, but received credit for a course he never attended. He goes on to say that the school principal also pressured the teachers to give this student two more credits, but they refused to do so.

After this incident was reported, the OIG launched an investigation into the school and found 352 fraudulent registrations, involving 342 different students. In total, these students were on the school attendance lists for 14,664 days longer than they were supposed to.

Cara Smith, policy officer for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, said his office only received the report this afternoon, but admitted it was confirming “the frustrations the sheriff has been feeling for many years about delivering educational programs in prison “.

“One frustration is you can’t take a model that might work in a traditional school and put it in a prison where the issues are complicated and cumbersome to begin with,” Smith told Chicago Tonight. “Our goal is to make the most of the time we have with these young people and reduce the likelihood of them coming back, and educational programs are top of the list.”

She added that her office went so far as to appeal to former CPS CEO Paul Vallas after his stint in the district to think about better ways for the school to operate within the prison.

Chicago Public Schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler. (Chicago tonight)

Schuler recommended both that the school implement new policies to prevent this from happening again in the future, and that the education council should fire the school principal.

“When we received these alarming allegations, we began a process of thoroughly reviewing the Inspector General’s findings,” CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “This process remains ongoing and we will respond appropriately based on the facts when our review is complete.”

The school operates with three 100-minute class periods per day on terms that often lasted less than 40 days. In addition to keeping children on attendance lists after their release, the school also reportedly gave credits to students who did not meet minimum class time requirements and those who were placed in solitary confinement for 10 days.

A teacher cited in the report also calls the school a “credit factory”. The principal allegedly denied pressuring teachers to issue fraudulent credits, but the report said that “the evidence shows that, at the very least, she encouraged them to issue credits in these interactions.”

“The OIG stressed that it appreciates that this school has a unique mission and unique challenges,” the report says. “That being said, the school cannot falsify the data and award credits that have not been earned.

“It appears that the school’s inappropriate and fraudulent practices are a way of distributing as many credits as possible, at a high cost to academic integrity. “

The CPS requires students to be deregistered before they turn 22, but the OIG’s investigation found that some students were still receiving credits even after they turned 27, 28 or 29, according to the report. The OIG also alleged that the school likely underreported the chronic misconduct incidents later reported by teachers.

The report said these included “assaults; chronic masturbation in the classroom; students got drunk during class after drinking “hookah” they made in their toilets; flooding and water damage caused by students clogging toilets with mattresses; and the threatening conduct of an organized faction of students who have committed sexual assaults in prison.

Smith believes these incidents were reported to prison staff, but not specifically to the CPS. She also added “I hope this report will trigger systemic changes.”

A call to York High School on Tuesday afternoon was not answered.

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMasterson

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