CPS limiting student-teacher contact

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Phillip DiBartolo, chief information officer for Chicago Public Schools, details information at the Aug. 22 School Board meeting that CPS officials will share with parents on staff and student policies. The updated policies prohibit most teacher-student contact via cell phone and social media. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Chicago Public Schools officials are taking action to limit cell-phone contact and social media communication between staff and students in the wake of pupils’ allegations of sexual abuse.

CPS officials note that neither their existing Staff Acceptable Use Policy, last updated in 2009, nor their existing Student Acceptable Use Policy, last updated in 2003, mentions social media or cell-phone guidelines or related rules of engagement. The length of time since the last updates on the policies was eye-opening, according to

Phillip DiBartolo, chief information officer for CPS.

“The last time we updated the policies, there were no iPhones,” DiBartolo said.

At the Chicago School Board’s Aug 22 meeting, DiBartolo said that the Chicago Public School system looked at similar policies in place in New York, Miami and other large school systems when making their policy updates.

“We used those as a guideline, not a prescription,” DiBartolo said.

He said the district didn’t list specific social media platforms that would be off limits for staff, noting that such a list could be dated before the ink dried.

DiBartolo said that CPS would provide webinars as well as take the information on the policy changes to schools across the city to let parents know what changes have been made.

Board vice president Jaime Guzman said he wants to ensure that the issue is revisited to see how much progress is made.

“I’d like to know after a year of use what we have learned, where changes have been made,” Guzman said. “As we go into the next school year, I want a year of information.”

School Board president Frank Clark agreed, saying the district needs a report done to ensure the district is progressing in keeping children safe.

“This is an issue of which the board should be well-informed,” Clark said.

In most cases, DiBartolo said, teachers and staff will need to get authority from the school administration to have social media or cell-phone contact with a student.

School staff and teachers are restricted from accepting students as friends on social media platforms under the new guidelines, according DiBartolo.

These changes come on the heels of a report by Schiff Harden attorney Margaret Hickey in the wake of inappropriate sexual action by staff against students that show CPS’ “systemic deficiencies in training, reporting, aggregating data, tracking trends and comprehending the extent of the sexual misconduct facing CPS children. These deficiencies occurred at all levels: in the schools, the networks, the Central  Office and the Chicago Board of Education.”

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said many of the safety steps proposed in Hickey’s report are already being implemented.

She said new background checks are being run on all CPS employees.

“We are redoing tens of thousands of employees’ background checks,” Jackson said.

She said the district would train principals, who, in turn, would teach instructors and staff on warning signs of possible sexual abuse. Jackson added that 13 CPS Parent University sites across the city would provide sexual abuse warning signs for parents.










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