Updated 7/25/2012 6:30 p.m.
At least five parents whose children attend Robert Emmet Elementary School are upset over what they call “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” behavior by the school’s principal and assistant principal.
Robyn Ziegler, a spokesperson 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 other parents insist that’s not an isolated incident. Pernell didn’t receive the order of protection, however, because her witness did not show up for the hearing.
Pernell said she felt scared following another incident at the school, located at 5500 W. Madison, in December when she went to pick up a bus pass the school distributes to low-income families. She said she exchanged words with Love and then he threatened her.
“He’s got a golf club saying he’s going to hit me with it,” Pernell said.
Love, who’s believed to be in his 60s, and Emmet Principal Jacqueline Robinson declined repeated requests to speak with AustinTalks about the various allegations. Chanteau King, parent of an Emmet second-grader, 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 Love walked past her in the school hallway in January 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 adds that she was in a relationship at that time, and the man she was dating talked with Love.
“Ever since then it stopped,” she said.
Some parents said they’ve reported to Principal Robinson conduct that concerned them – including Love swearing at children, speaking in a derogatory manner to staff members and taking parents’ pictures without their permission.
“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 at CPS’ Downtown central office about the complaints, spokesperson Ziegler said in a written statement that 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’s chief of schools for the Austin-North Lawndale area, multiple times from November of last year to this spring. They also contacted the CPS law department to discuss their concerns but have not been able to talk with anyone there. They 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.
“What we’ve done is follow the process,” 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. State law requires that at least two public LSC meetings be held each school year to discuss the school’s annual improvement plan and budget, among other reports.
AustinTalks requested the minutes of the school’s LSC meetings, 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,” Ziegler wrote in an e-mail.
In the meantime, the Office of Local School Council Relations has assigned staff to monitor and assist the Emmet LSC with future meeting management, Ziegler added. 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 walk 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. Hopkins said six parents, some of whom brought their children, attended the 2011 meeting. She recalled that 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 they wish 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,” Hopkins said. “She has to go to therapy for all the things she went through at school.”
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.
According to Johnson, 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.” And Johnson insists he’s heard from more than just one CTU member about Love.
“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 added.
“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,” he said.
Beverly Keller, a parent of a first-grade son at the school, alleges having heard Love “holler” at children and thinks its time for the assistant principal to go.
“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,” he said.