2018 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom winner


Chicago schools fail to protect students from sexual abuse and assault, leaving lasting damage

About the Project

No public body discloses how many times students in Chicago Public Schools are victims of sexual violence and abuse in their schools, who assaulted them, or in which schools the abuse or assault occurred. Not the police, not CPS and not the state child welfare agency.

To understand how often CPS students were victims of sexual assault or abuse in their schools and to identify school employees who abused students, the Chicago Tribune gathered data from the Chicago Police Department, records from arrests and criminal trials, filings and transcripts from civil lawsuits, tort and lawsuit payments by the school district, disciplinary records from the Illinois State Board of Education and files from employee dismissal hearings. Reporters examined at least a decade’s worth of those records.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, reporters obtained data from the police on more than 50,000 incidents in which officers took reports of crimes of any kind inside schools that involved child victims since 2002.

To confirm the location of crimes occurring in Chicago Public Schools, the Tribune used mapping software to plot the crime locations on a shapefile, obtained from the city of Chicago data portal, that contained more than 800,000 building footprints citywide.

The Tribune used what’s called “nearest-neighbor analysis” to join each reported sex crime to the closest school building. Sometimes schools were identified as such in the shapefile, but reporters also drew on year-by-year school address data from CPS. Some reported crimes had to be matched by hand using other mapping tools, satellite views of school signage or even visits to locations.

The Tribune then focused its analysis on the most recent 10-year period available, or 2008 through 2017. At least 523 police reports were filed that indicated children had been victims of sex crimes in Chicago Public Schools during that period, the Tribune found. That number includes cases in which the alleged abuser was also a student.

To further check accuracy and obtain more details about the incidents, the Tribune matched hundreds of police-report numbers with Cook County criminal court dockets from both the adult and juvenile divisions. Reporters also searched through hundreds of civil lawsuits.

Reporters obtained confidential district investigative records that detail how abuse allegations were handled and received others through public-records requests. They interviewed more than 100 people, including young victims and their families, and reached out to perpetrators at their homes and in state prisons. Victims named in this series chose to be identified.

The result of the Tribune’s reporting and analysis is the first look at the frequency of educator sexual misconduct in Chicago Public Schools, and the systemic failures and culture of secrecy that enabled these crimes to occur.

The week after publication, Illinois lawmakers introduced a set of legislative proposals and began planning hearings in response to the Chicago Public Schools sexual abuse scandal. Chicago schools CEO Janice Jackson has outlined new policies the district plans to pursue in light of the Tribune’s investigation but also stressed the need for revising state laws.