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Chicago Schools Lose Millions For Allegedly Not Shielding Students From Sexual Abuse

Federal officials are withholding $4 million in grant money from Chicago Public Schools, after reports of serious and pervasive problems that left students vulnerable to sexual violence.

Chicago Public Schools will lose millions of dollars in grant money for what federal officials say is a failure to protect students from sexual abuse.

The Department of Education is withholding $4 million, asserting that the school district wasn't complying with investigations or addressing disturbing trends, according to the Chicago Tribune. The funding is part of a $14.9 million Magnet Schools Assistance grant which was awarded to Chicago schools in 2017 and is supposed to be dispersed over a five-year period.

The Tribune reported on sexual violence within the public school system this summer: One teacher allegedly gave a student sangria before sexually assaulting her in his car. He had been the subject of other complaints at the school prior to the incident. Another student, then a sophomore, said she was punched and forced into an empty building by a group of boys who made her perform oral sex, the paper reported. None of the suspects were disciplined, her complaint reportedly stated.

According to the newspaper, the Chicago schools have four sexual violence cases open — "more pending federal sexual violence investigations than any other K-12 grade district in the country."

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement emailed to NPR that the cut in funding harms three elementary schools that serve low-income and minority students.

"The Trump Administration's move to threaten funding for schools that serve children of color is another attack on Chicago considering CPS has already taken significant steps recommended by an independent expert to transform the way it responds to and prevents abuse," Passman said.

The Board of Education asked an independent expert — Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor and Illinois Executive Inspector General — to review the district's policies for addressing sexual misconduct. Hickey found that some "predators went undetected or unpunished."

Passman said Hickey's assessment resulted in changes, including partnering with the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center and updating its sex ed curriculum to teach students about sexual violence. The school district has also shifted the responsibility of investigating allegations of adult-on-student sexual abuse to the Office of the Inspector General, Passman said.

He told NPR that Chicago Public Schools never received a memo, reportedly sent by the Department of Education on Monday, which justified why the grant funds were withheld. Passman said CPS asked for the memo after media reported on it.

"We are working tirelessly to address this pervasive societal challenge and safeguard our students — including by cooperating with the Department of Education — and it is hard to believe that any administration committed to providing low-income and minority students with real opportunity would be able to stomach the threats the Trump Administration is making."

The district plans to appeal the decision, he added.

According to a 2016 report by the Department of Health and Human Services, there were 57,329 sexual abuse victims that year across the United States.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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