At least five parents whose children attend Robert Emmet Elementary school say they’re upset over what they call “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” behavior by the school’s principal and assistant principal.
Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools, says the district is investigating the school’s assistant principal but declined to answer questions.
At least one parent, Latrice Pernell, sought an order of protection last fall against Emmet Assistant Principal Merlo “Milo” Love for verbal harassment, and others said it’s not an isolated incident. Pernell didn’t receive an order of protection, however, because her witness did not show up for the hearing.
After going to court, Pernell said she felt scared following another incident at the school in December when she went to pick up a bus pass the school distributes to low-income families. She said she and Love exchanged words, then she said he threatened her.
“He’s got a golf club saying he’s going to hit me with it,” Pernell said.
Love and Emmet’s Principal Jacqueline Robinson declined repeated requests to speak with AustinTalks about this or allegations made by other parents.
Chanteau King, parent of a second-grade son at Emmet, said Love touched her inappropriately last winter.
“The only problem I have with the assistant principal is touching, putting his hands on me like I belong to him,” she said. “I told him before, ‘I don’t belong to you. You don’t have no right putting your hands on me, because that’s called sexual harassment.’”
King said in January, Love walked past her in the school hallway and touched her buttocks. She did not tell the school’s principal or CPS about the incident because she said she worried her son would be treated differently. King said she was in a relationship at that time, and the man she was dating talked with Love.
“Ever since then it stopped,” King said.
Some parents said they’ve reported conduct that concerned them – including Love swearing at children, speaking in a derogatory manner to staff members and taking parents’ pictures without their permission – to Principal Robinson.
“I go to her and report things to her,” Pernell said. “She tries to make it like she doesn’t know anything about it.”
After AustinTalks asked officials in the CPS’ Downtown central office about the complaints, spokeswoman Ziegler said in a written statement the district has an “open investigation into the allegations against Mr. Love that have been brought to our attention.”
Ziegler declined to say when the investigation started or answer other questions.
Pernell and Wanda Hopkins, assistant director for Parents United for Responsible Education, a local advocacy group, said they called Annett Gurley, CPS’ chief of schools for the Austin-North Lawndale area, multiple times from November of last year to this spring, as well as the district’s law department to discuss their concerns but have not been able to talk with anyone at CPS and fear they’re not being taken seriously.
Gurley did not return repeated calls made by AustinTalks.
It’s not clear when the two administrators started working at Emmet or where they worked previously, as CPS refused to provide that information and also denied AustinTalks’ Freedom of Information Act request for Love’s personnel file, citing privacy issues and the district’s pending investigation of the assistant principal.
“What we’ve done is follow the process,” PURE’s Hopkins said. “We encourage the parents to do what they need to do. We encouraged Miss Latrice to call the Board of Education, but they tell her to call the chief of schools. She’s made several calls to that office.”
It’s not clear if parents have tried to communicate their concerns with Emmet’s Local School Council as it does not appear the LSC has been meeting since at least January 2010 despite state law that requires at least two public meetings be held each school year to discuss the school’s annual improvement plan and budget proposals, among other reports.
AustinTalks requested the minutes for the school’s LSC meeting dating back for the last two and a half years to no avail.
“CPS will continue to work to see if (the documents) are available from the Local School Council’s officers,” spokeswoman Ziegler wrote in an e-mail.
In the meantime, CPS’ Office of Local School Council Relations has assigned staff to monitor and assist the LSC with future meeting management, she said via e-mail.
Hopkins said three teachers and several parents since late last year have contacted PURE about their concerns.
After Pernell sought PURE’s help last year, the advocacy group held a meeting to determine if what Pernell was reporting was an isolated incident or more pervasive.
“She would talk about how the assistant principal would harass her, go around the school following her and walking into the bathroom on her,” Hopkins said.
“We did a forum, where parents and people that work there would say, ‘Yes, this man harassed me, he filmed me, all kinds of things.”
PURE’s “Emmet Parent Action Committee,” a small group of concerned parents, community members and representatives of the advocacy group, first met in late November 2011 and sporadically after that to address issues, such as “parent rights in and outside the school, divisiveness and favoritism by the administration, Love’s divisiveness, and the overuse of police and courts for problems,” according to the group’s agenda for one meeting.
Hopkins said six parents, some who brought their children, attended the 2011 meeting. She said one 12-year-old student spoke, saying he had overheard Love call an overweight child a “fat ass.”
Three teachers have contacted PURE, Hopkins said, but want to remain anonymous and would not speak with AustinTalks for fear of losing their jobs or other forms of retaliation.
“One teacher said to me she sits in her car some days because she literally, physically can’t get out. She has to go to therapy for all the things she went through at school,” Hopkins said.
Brandon Johnson, a Chicago’s Teachers’ Union organizer at Emmet, said CTU members across the district are facing pressures to remain in “good graces” with administrators, but at Emmet, there’s an incredible amount of pressure, such as bullying and intimidation, placed on teachers and staff.
He said teachers at the school are working hard, and tests results prove that, but there’s “a real harsh tone and level of expectations without providing the support and encouragement that members need.”
More than one CTU member has talked with Johnson about Love, the organizer said.
“There are members who are not comfortable around the assistant principal, and his behavior has created such a level of discomfort that parents as well as members are not comfortable dealing with them,” Johnson said.
“Folks at Emmet are very concerned about his interactions with people.”
The level of discomfort at Emmet is a unique situation, Johnson said.
“I have not heard, in my experience up to this point, the type of hesitation that members have and some parents when it comes to being around this assistant principal.”
Beverly Keller, a parent of a first-grade son at the school, said he’s heard Love “holler” at children and thinks its time for the assistant principal to go.
“The children, he hollers at them, he handles them rough with his mouth,” Keller said.
“Believe me, I’ve heard him stand in the hall, and he yells at these kids, ‘You get out of the school, school is over, you get out of here,’ and to me, that shouldn’t be.”