CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools announced Thursday that the district has reinstated a principal accused of falsifying student data at a high school run at a county jail after an investigation found the accusations unproven.
In September, the watchdog for the nation's third-largest school district recommended Principal Sharnette Sims of York Alternative High School be fired. Inspector General Nicholas Schuler alleged in a seven-page report that the school at Cook County Jail regularly granted attendance and course credit to students who'd left the jail or been moved to solitary confinement.
Sims was removed from the school and Sheriff Tom Dart banned her from entering the jail.
However, school and city officials alleged in their own investigation that there were errors in the initial report and said the inspector general didn't visit the school or interview Sims' supervisors. District officials said they reviewed years of emails, conducted dozens of interviews and checked data before concluding Schuler's accusations were "unsubstantiated and unfounded."
"Principal Sims is owed our thanks for her efforts at York, as well as a sincere apology for the blight on her reputation," district CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement. "Dr. Sims has devoted herself to helping young people at risk and has done remarkable work under difficult circumstances."
Schuler said he stands by his independent report and was still reviewing the Chicago officials' investigation. But he disputed the claims in Thursday's report, adding that releasing a "public report attacking an investigation" by his office was unprecedented.
According to district officials, the inspector general accused school officials of falsifying district scores it doesn't receive and made wrong conclusions about how students earn credits. Chicago officials also alleged a "racial element" to the watchdog's investigation, saying that while 70 percent of the school's teaching staff are African-American like Sims, eight of the 11 staff members interviewed are white and one is Asian. Of the two African-American teachers interviewed, one was critical of Sims or York.
Schuler said his office did visit the school and 15 members of the school's staff were interviewed. He said "race played no part" in the investigation.
Sims returned to school Thursday. The district declined to make her available for an interview.
School officials said they met with Dart, who assisted in the investigation.
Chicago has run some version of a school for young people at Cook County jail since the 1920s. The current model took shape after a 1992 class action lawsuit brought by the Legal Assistance Foundation and the Northwestern University law school's legal clinic calling for the right to education for all detainees. In 1998, the school was named after the late Consuella York, a longtime jail chaplain.
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