CPS sat on evidence of record falsification for months before removing Ogden principal

By Staff | November 29, 2018

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Via the Chicago Reader, November 29, 2018. 

With the merger of Ogden and Jenner elementary schools underway, Chicago Public Schools earlier this month removed the well-respected principal of the former from his post of three years. Dr. Michael Beyer, who’s worked for the district since 2003 and has earned accolades as a principal, was accused by the Chicago Board of Education’s inspector general of falsifying attendance records across Ogden’s three K-12 campuses comprising some 1,900 students. Now Beyer is suing the school district claiming he hasn’t been given a fair chance to defend himself.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) delivered its findings to CPS in a heavily redacted report dated June 29, 2018. It claimed that investigators identified “75 instances where students were temporarily unenrolled and re-enrolled within the same school year,” over the course of Beyer’s tenure. The OIG claimed that Beyer and other school staff improperly directed parents to unenroll students who had to travel abroad with family or had other reasons to miss school for long stretches so as not to have to mark the students as absent.

However, the report provides no evidence that staff did this in an effort to fudge attendance numbers. At one point, Beyer is briefly quoted in an apparent admission of improperly handling some students’ attendance records: “When confronted with emails showing that he condoned or encouraged the practice, Beyer admitted ‘Clearly, I did break the policy,’ and that he ‘messed up.'” (Beyer’s lawyers contest that their client admitted to any wrongdoing.)

For reasons the district hasn’t made clear, Beyer wasn’t removed from his position at Ogden until November 1. This was the date when he first learned of the report, according to a lawsuit he filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County two weeks ago. Beyer, whose removal from the school was met with vehement protests from Ogden parents and the local school council, is now claiming that the district has violated due process by calling a suspension hearing without allowing him to examine evidence against him and without making it clear what rules would be used to determine disciplinary actions against him.

All of this comes as the merger of Ogden Elementary in the Gold Coast with Jenner Academy in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood enters its first year. The merger effectively closes Jenner and consolidates its students with Ogden students across two buildings. This is the school closure that sociologist and education activist Eve Ewing recently described to the Reader as “really interesting because no one even calls it a school closing . . . because it was a community-driven process.”

Beyer was integral to the process, along with Jenner principal Robert Croston, who died unexpectedly earlier this year. Though some parents and CPS insiders were reportedly against the consolidation of the schools, the two principals worked to ensure that the merger was transparent and acceptable to most students and parents in both schools’ communities.

When asked why they waited four months to begin disciplinary proceedings against Beyer, thereby disrupting the school year during a highly scrutinized period at Ogden, CPS communications director Michael Passman provided only a general statement:

“Based on the facts of this case, the district is in agreement with the Inspector General’s assessment that removing Principal Beyer is appropriate and necessary. A highly qualified Acting Principal will be supporting the school in the days ahead, and the district is committed to providing all necessary supports to ensure the merger of the Jenner and Ogden communities continues to be successful.”

Beyer couldn’t speak on the record. One of his attorneys, Eric Schmitt, reached by phone Monday, said that the goal of the lawsuit is to see Beyer “restored to his position as principal at Ogden.”

Schmitt said Beyer’s alleged admission of guilt as presented by the OIG’s report was a quote taken out of context, and that his client never told any parents they had to unenroll their students. Rather, he said, the decisions to unenroll were made by families who didn’t want their children to accrue truancy records with CPS while in school abroad.

Read more of this article at Chicago Reader »