The Crusader Newspaper Group

Alderman Taylor to hold hearing on CPS’ hostile takeover of Urban Prep

On Wednesday, June 14, 2023, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Anna M. Loftus denied the issuance of a temporary restraining order to Urban Prep Academies against Chicago Pubic Schools.

Despite the ruling, Alderman Jeanette Taylor (20th), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, has agreed to hold a hearing on CPS’ hostile takeover of the nationally acclaimed Urban Prep Academies, a takeover that will negatively affect the lives of 400 Black boys and their families.

In an interview with the Chicago Crusader on Monday, June 12, Taylor said she is seeking the truth, including evidence of any wrongdoing by Urban Prep officials, not just accusations.

CPS officials informed Craig Wimberly, president of the Coalition of African American Leaders (COAL), of their vow to shut down Urban Prep Academies, which is comprised of the Englewood and Bronzeville schools, because of low enrollment rates and fiscal failures.

Taylor said, “Those were not the reasons I was given, and Urban Prep is not closing. It’s being turned over to a CPS school, and it’s being turned over because the previous president supposedly had sexual relations with young people at the school. I haven’t received anything from CPS to finish the investigation.”

When told that, Dennis Lacewell, founding president of Urban Prep who is now the Chief Academic Officer, said CPS’ allegations of sexual misconduct are not true.

Referring to Tim King, founder and CEO of Urban Prep who was forced to resign after allegations of impropriety were made public, Lacewell said, “These were allegations, not facts, leveled by CPS. One of the things the CPS team said was that we violated Title IX because there was a Facebook post where a 30-year-old man said he was sexually abused. If you read the post, nowhere does it say sexual abuse.”

However, Taylor told the Chicago Crusader, “That is not what I got from the mayor’s office. What you are being told is something totally different from what I am being told and, because there was this new administration, I haven’t talked to anybody about Urban Prep at all. In fact, they have meetings that I am not even aware of.”

Lacewell said, “The man (who posted the accusation against King) said verbal, not sexual abuse, and verbal abuse is not a Title IX reporting. There have been four investigations into this, two by DCFS and both came back unsubstantiated, unfounded. A third independent investigator found it unsubstantiated, unfounded, only the CPS investigation. No police report was filed and the accuser refuses to sign a report.

“In that (CPS) report, there is no evidence, no text messages, no eye witnesses, no phone calls,” said Lacewell.

He described the CPS allegations as proof of the “outlandishness of CPS in their witch hunt against King where they tried to investigate the most outlandish things ever, wasting taxpayers’ money on investigations. It boggles the mind,” Lacewell said.

In another CPS case involving the firing of Abdul Muhammad, a Black principal at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, Attorney Berve Power said Muhammad was fired before there were charges filed and before there was a hearing or any determination. Power said the firing was based on “82 documented lies” against Muhammad, led by seven white teachers and a Black clerk.

“I hope this will be a part of the conversation,” Taylor said. “The two meetings we will be having will be around transparency. That will be part of the conversation.” Taylor said she will hold a hearing on the Urban Prep issue “at some point. I can’t tell you when.”

Taylor said, “According to the last administration, they had received some video of Tim King. I’ve heard there was some mess, but I do agree that City Colleges and CPS have a history of firing Black men for no reason.”

Referring to CPS firing so many Black teachers, including Black principals, Taylor added, “It is very problematic, getting rid of Black principals based on nothing and no merit. It’s going to open CPS and the city up to a bunch of lawsuits.”

In the December 13, 2021 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, it was reported that, “Fired Black educators reach $9.25M settlement with CPS.”

“About 413 teachers and paraprofessionals may be eligible for compensation after CPS and the Teachers Union opted to end a decade-long dispute that was destined for a court trial,” according to the Sun-Times. This is what Taylor fears will happen once again.

“They need to be more transparent and be honest with the community as a whole and that is the problem,” said Taylor, who vowed to call CPS/CEO Pedro Martinez to testify “to the bottom of the truth.”

Agreeing about the need for transparency was Wimberly who cited Illinois law Section 105 ILCS 5/34-18.69, which states: “The Board shall not approve any school closings, consolidations, or phase-outs until the Board of Education is seated on January 15, 2025,” when there is an elected school board in place.

Wimberly added, “We cannot allow CPS to shutter a Black high school dedicated to educating Black boys and young men, and one with an excellent track record of success. Urban Prep not only provides a quality education, with 100 percent of its graduates being accepted into college and 75 percent going on to college, but it also engenders a sense of self, self-esteem and community pride in our kids.

“COAL does not accept Tim King as an excuse for closing down Urban Prep; he is no longer leading Urban Prep, and the current leadership has continued providing a quality educational experience for our boys,” said Wimberly.

“COAL does not accept financial mismanagement as an excuse for closing down Urban Prep. The institution has passed every annual audit without major findings and further; COAL will leverage its deep financial, business management, and board oversight expertise and experience to strengthen Urban Prep’s team, going forward.

“Black children deserve a quality education, and Urban Prep is providing our boys with a quality education; therefore, Urban Prep must be allowed to continue,” he stated.

“We, as a community, cannot sit by and accept CPS shutting down Urban Prep. We must challenge the systems that do not prioritize the education of our children, that devalue our community institutions, and that do not listen to the voices of our community who strongly support Urban Prep Academies. Black youth matter. Black institutions matter. Black voices matter,” Wimberly adamantly told the Chicago Crusader.

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