624 Sex Assault Complaints at Chicago Schools This Semester
Associated Press November 29 at 1:07 PM
CHICAGO — A new office created to look into cases of sexual abuse in Chicago’s public schools after an investigation revealed that the officials had failed to adequately do so has received nearly 500 allegations of student-on-student sexual violence in less than three months.
The Office of Student Protections and Title IX that was created after the Chicago Tribune found broad lapses in how the nation’s third-largest school district protected students from sexual abuse, physical assault, and harassment, including by school employees, since 2011.
On Wednesday, district officials told the City Council’s education committee that in addition to the hundreds of recent allegations of student-on-student sexual violence, they had received 133 reports of alleged misconduct by adults — many of whom work for the district. The district’s deputy general counsel, Douglas Henning said the reports reflect a growing willingness to report sexual abuse.
“We’re in a world now where if you see something that makes you uncomfortable, that you think is wrong, you absolutely have to report that,” she told the committee.
The fact that hundreds of reports were made in a matter of weeks also raises questions about how many more children have been victims of sexual violence — both in the city and around the country.
Last year, The Associated Press reported that more than a third of the states don’t track student sexual assaults and that some of the nation’s biggest school districts reported zero sexual assaults over a multi-year period.
The Chicago school district created its office after the Tribune published its “Betrayed” series that looked into how the district had been dealing with such allegations. Among other things, the new office must forward adult-related complaints it receives to the district’s inspector general. It also has reviewed background checks on tens of thousands of district workers, vendors and volunteers that resulted in 128 employees being fired, recommended for dismissal or resigning under scrutiny.
Some aldermen expressed anger about the way the district is going about protecting students.
“This Office of Student Protections? Their schools should be the office of student protections,” said Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, who is also a member of the Chicago Teachers Union. “When you walk into that building, your school should protect you. You should have a counselor full time, social worker full time.”
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The hazing lawsuit was brought against the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and several brothers of the former University of Chicago chapter.
The Fierberg National Law Group – on behalf of a former UChicago Phi Delta Theta pledge – settled the hazing lawsuit brought against Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and members of its now suspended University of Chicago chapter on September 11th.
As told by The Chicago Maroon:
A hazing lawsuit brought against the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and several brothers of the former UChicago chapter was settled, a September 11 court document shows.
Dylan Kanaan, who was a spring 2015 Phi Delt pledge, alleged in a June 2016 complaint that he was hazed on the night of his initiation ceremony. According to Kanaan’s complaint, the defendants in the case forced him to binge drink alcohol and physically assaulted him in the chapter house.
Kanaan said the injuries he sustained on the night of the incident included a concussion, a fractured cheekbone, and a large cut under his eye. His complaint sought $250,000 in damages.
None of the parties in the case wanted to comment on the settlement. The agreement includes a confidentiality clause, according to a representative of one party in the case.
“Regarding this matter, because it was a confidential settlement, I and all parties are not able to answer questions or comment,” wrote executive vice president and CEO of Phi Delt Robert Biggs in an e-mail. William Eveland, Phi Delt’s attorney in the case, said he had no comment.
Jason Kleinman, an attorney for defendant Dakota Ford, said upon introduction, “I’ll spare you the trouble, and you can quote me on this, I don’t have any comment.”
Attorneys for the other named defendants in the case, former chapter president Nicholas Luthi and former rush chair Mihir Dubey, did not return voice mails, e-mails, or messages left with their assistants.
In January 2016, before Kanaan filed his lawsuit, the fraternity announced that the UChicago chapter would undergo “recolonization,” a process under which the fraternity said the chapter would be dormant until all students who were members have graduated from the University. A letter obtained by TheMaroon informing fraternity alumni of the decision cited “risk management policy violations” as the reason for recolonization. It was not clear until October 2016, however, when TheMaroon published a report on the hazing incident, that the decision to recolonize came after a Phi Delt investigation into the incident at issue in the lawsuit.
Last fall, former Phi Delt brother Ford decided to share the chapter’s side of the story with The Maroon. Ford shared documents and photos related to the case. In one of the documents he provided, a brother admitted that chapter’s actions were “blatantly irresponsible.” Ford acknowledged he believed that Kanaan had a case against the fraternity: “This kid definitely has a case…. He deserves something, it’s obvious. He has a personal injury case.” But the account Ford presented disputed Kanaan’s core allegations—that he was singled out, trapped in Ford’s basement room, and assaulted—and instead alleged that Kanaan sustained his injuries when he slipped on a patch of ice while drunkenly trying to run out of the fraternity house.
Ford did not dispute that pledges were made to drink significant amounts of Everclear and beer before the incident.
A court filing with Dubey’s response to the complaint denies many of Kanaan’s allegations but accepts some details from Kanaan’s account.
Dubey acknowledged that pledges and members consumed a “green liquid” and beer on the night of the incident. He admitted that Kanaan was in the basement of the house and Ford’s room for a portion of the night, and he admitted that Kanaan tried to leave that room and run outside the chapter house.
Dubey denied or said he lacked the knowledge to respond to Kanaan’s main allegations, and he alleged that when Kanaan attempted to leave “fraternity members attempted to assist Plaintiff who was acting erratically.”
Dubey also said that Phi Delt knew or “had reason to know of the conduct of its fraternity members” and that it “provided substantial assistance to [the chapter] with respect to the pinning ceremony at issue.”
Phi Delt’s main argument in the case, according to a motion it filed to dismiss the complaint, was that “a national fraternity like [Phi Delta Theta] is not liable as a matter of law for the alleged actions of a local college fraternity chapter and its student members.” Phi Delt supported this claim by stating that it “did not control or direct the daily activities of the chapter and its student members” and that it does not permit hazing in its policies.
Dubey and Ford alleged in court filings that Kanaan knowingly and willingly acted irresponsibly, putting himself at risk. Kanaan rejected this claim in response. Luthi, through his attorney, raised technical issues with the complaint, such as instances where he alleged that it includes too much or too little detail, claiming that this prevented him from being able to respond.
Kanaan’s attorneys, Jonathon Fazzola and Douglas Fierberg, did not respond to Maroon inquiries about the settlement. Fierberg, however, is quoted in a September 15 NBC News story about the death of a Louisiana State University Phi Delt pledge. The story refers to Fierberg as “a prominent anti-hazing attorney who just settled a lawsuit against Phi Delta Theta on behalf of a University of Chicago pledge who was assaulted.”
Fierberg appears to criticize a Phi Delt policy implemented in 2000 that designates the fraternity as alcohol-free: “Whatever policy they have relies on the implementation by 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who are untrained and ill-equipped to manage the fraternities…. You can have a policy that says no terrorists go through the turnstiles at the airport, but if you staff the turnstiles with 18-, 19- and 20-year-old drunk kids, your policies will never rise above that level.”
School Violence Law represented a college student who was raped by a classmate. The classmate was found responsible for sexual assault in Illinois campus disciplinary hearings, but the university later vacated that decision and allowed him to remain in class with her. Title IX claims were filed against the University, and were resolved favorably for our client with a substantial, confidential financial settlement.
Our clients have traveled a path that may be similar to the one you are currently traveling. Many clients have become strong advocates and have valuable insights they are willing to share, including our work. Please feel free to inquire, and when appropriate, we will gladly connect you to them, as they too are committed to offering their help and unique insight.