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Chicago schools boost spending on law firm investigating sexual misconduct policy

The law firm reviewing how Chicago Public Schools handles allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct just got an additional $500,000 in billing authority. The Chicago Board of Education approved doubling the firm’s ceiling on Wednesday at its monthly board meeting.

That means the firm, Schiff Harden LLP, now can bill the school district up to $1 million for its review, which is led by partner Maggie Hickey, a former Illinois executive inspector general.

The board first tapped Hickey in June, amid fallout over a Chicago Tribune investigation that unearthed the school district’s failures over a decade to protect student victims of sexual abuse. Hickey’s firm was retained for $500,000 then to assess the policies, practices, and procedures at the district related to sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse. Hickey’s rate of $395 an hour was about $100 more than the district usually pays outside counsel, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In August, Hickey released a preliminary report that blamed instability in leadership at the district — from a revolving door of chief executives to changes in network chiefs — for a gap in oversight that failed to protect student victims of sexual abuse.

“This turnover makes it difficult to instill and maintain productive policies and procedures, stable systems independent of any person, and cultures of compliance,” the report said.

The report found “systemic deficiencies … at all levels: in the schools, the networks, the central office, and the Chicago Board of Education,” and concluded that “CPS did not collect overall data to see trends in certain schools or across geographies or demographics. Thus, CPS failed to recognize the extent of the problem.”

While the district had policies and procedures about how to handle sexual misconduct, “employees were not consistently trained on them, and there were no mechanisms to ensure that they were being uniformly implemented or to evaluate their effectiveness.” Hickey is working with the district to oversee implementation of recommendations in the preliminary report, and serving as an adviser for the creation of the Office of Student Protections and Title IX. The district hasn’t provided a deadline for Hickey’s review or a publication date for her final report.

Here’s a draft of what she’s found so far:

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