A complaint filed in January 2020 alleges that Dr. Stephanie Jones, head of the special education department at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), engaged in toxic work behavior meant to “intimidate, humiliate and reprimand” her employees. 

The complaint also alleges that Executive Director Dr. Hireshemo Clark and District Representative Manager Sarah Briggs were unfit for their roles within the CPS special education department.

Today (May 13), Clark told The TRiiBE that he resigned on Nov. 26, 2020, because of unfair treatment by Jones and Deputy Chief Rebecca Parker of the special education department. 

“I worked professionally in my job as executive director and those allegations against me are not true,” said Clark, regarding the complaint. “But Jones did treat her staff disrespectfully and was unprofessional in her role.” 

This news comes in light of recent announcements from three senior CPS officials who plan to step down at the end of the school year, including CEO Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade and Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera. 

According to the newly-surfaced Jones complaint obtained by The TRiiBE on May 12 through a public records request, the concerns represented collective staff members from the special education department who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. 

The complaint includes multiple allegations of verbal abuse in the workplace, including instances in which Jones allegedly yelled at and berated employees during staff meetings, striking “fear and anxiety” in an attempt to “garner respect.” Complainants also mention Rebecca Parker, deputy chief of the special education department, as a witness to these alleged incidents. 

The allegations are similar to the allegations made against former CPS Inspector General Nick Schuler who was under investigation in December of 2019 by an outside law firm hired by the school board for creating a “toxic work environment” in the office of the Inspector General. It took only a month for Schuler to resign following that investigation.

However, the complaint filed against Jones was filed over a year ago and it’s unclear if an investigation has been launched into the matter.

Jones did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

“It’s disgusting,” Mary Fahey Hughes told The TRiiBE on May 12. She is a special education parent liaison with Raise Your Hand (RYH). “There’s no trust and there’s no sense that anyone there gives a shit about what is going on. They are just going through the motions in the most cynical way.”

The Jones complaint also names two other staff members from CPS, including Executive Director Dr. Hireshemo Clark and District Representative Manager Sarah Briggs. Complainants allege that both individuals were hired into their positions without notification to the special education department or an opportunity for other qualified candidates to apply. 

As district representative manager, Briggs oversees 38 district representatives in the school district tasked with making sure that students with disabilities who require specialized services by federal law are receiving them. Another major component of her job, according to the Jones complaint, is overseeing Student Specific Corrective Action (SSCA), a measure set in place by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2018 to ensure that remedies are offered to the 10,500 students who were harmed by the school district’s overhaul of special education services in 2016. 

SSCA “can have huge financial implications” for the school district, according to the complainants who feel that anyone in the position to oversee that process should have the proper credentials, but Briggs “does not.”

According to the complainants, Briggs’ position should be held by someone with an Illinois Professional Educator’s License with an administrative endorsement. Briggs’ license currently does not include that endorsement, according to the Illinois State Board of Education educator licensure information system. 

Jones, Briggs and Clark were all hired after the school district’s overhaul of the special education program which led to a state investigation confirming that the district limited services to students who needed them. As a way to hold the school district accountable, the state required CPS to undergo a three-year plan to fix the problems associated with the overhaul and provide remedies to the more than 10,000 students affected by it. 

“It disempowers parents and it makes them [unable] to advocate for their children,” said Terri Smith-Roback, a CPS special education advocate, about the impact of an alleged toxic work environment on students. “People are demoralized and leaving.” 

Though the Jones complaint was addressed to multiple senior officials, including the former Inspector General Nick Schuler, a CPS spokesperson said the school district is unaware of any ongoing investigations related to the matter.

“Dr. Jones has the highest integrity and is performing her duties with a steadfast commitment to serving CPS families and students with special needs,” said the district in a statement to the TRiiBE on May 13. “Dr. Jones brings years of experience to her role and as a mother of a student with special needs, she brings a unique perspective – one of personal understanding and commitment to the needs of all of our diverse learners and their families.”

Current CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher also told The TRiiBE on May 6 that they “cannot deny or confirm the existence of an investigation” related to the Jones complaint. 

As the CPS district begins it’s search for a new CEO, Hughes hopes for a better administration that will take concerns related to special education more seriously. 

“I hope they make sure there’s personnel in place who are willing to put students first,” she said. “[I hope] that they can focus on what’s really happening and not so much the marketing.”

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.