CHICAGO (CBS) — Christopher Thomas was the dean of South Shore Fine Arts Academy, and last year he was charged with choking a 9-year-old special needs student until the boy passed out.
Now a former coworker is speaking out only to CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey, saying he reported Thomas’ violent behavior to the Chicago Public Schools years ago, but Thomas kept his job.
CPS followed up to say corporal punishment allegations involving Thomas were deemed unfounded.
Last November, Thomas was arrested and charged with aggravated battery against a 9-year-old student. Prosecutors said Thomas accused the child of stealing markers, pushed him into a classroom, and choked him until he couldn’t breathe. CPS called the incident “appalling.”
“He took his hands, put them around the child’s throat, and squeezed; choking off the child’s airways, and causing the kid to lose consciousness,” said Jon Erickson, the attorney for the student. “From there, he picked the kid up and threw him against a wall.”
Former teacher Jeff Naumann said CPS is partly responsible for the boy’s injuries, because he sounded the alarm about Thomas in 2014, and he’s got the emails to prove it.
“I just wanted to stop the behavior to protect the students, and I kept going through all the appropriate avenues, and nothing was changing,” he said.
Naumann recently moved to New Jersey, but he said while still at CPS, he documented every time he became aware that Thomas hit students; slapped them in the stomach, hit them in the face, and even allegedly choked another student in 2014.
“It was an open secret at this school,” he said.
Naumann reported the violence to his principal, but said she did nothing.
Emails showed he went over her head in December 2014 to report the problem to his network chief, LaTanya McDade – now the CPS chief education officer – and told her about hitting, slapping, and other threats of violence.
McDade responded by saying she would investigate, but Thomas remained in his position until September 2018.
“Because they did nothing about it, my client was strangled. So, yes, the Chicago Public Schools could have prevented this by simply doing what they’re supposed to do,” Erickson said.
Erickson has amended his civil lawsuit to include Thomas’ alleged pattern of violence.
Naumann said he’s disappointed it came to this.
“He remained in place, and as you can see, then a kid got choked in 2019. And who knows how many other students had to deal with threats of violence or violence in the meantime? I have no idea,” he said.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton issued a statement late Wednesday declining to comment directly on the case.
“While the district cannot comment on ongoing litigation, CPS is committed to fostering safe learning environments in all schools, which is why it has strengthened its protocols for addressing allegations of corporal abuse in its efforts to protect students,” the statement said.
CPS also said Thomas is no longer an employee. The district also adjusted its protocol this year to ensure employees accused of “corporal abuse” are removed from class and investigated.
The district said it did receive complaints about Thomas prior to 2018 and said he was disciplined appropriately following investigations.
But in one earlier incident – which involved investigations at the school and CPS investigations unit level and a visit by McDade – the staff who were interviewed said they did not know about any allegations of corporal punishment administered by Thomas, CPS said.
Thus, the corporal punishment allegations were ruled unfounded and McDade ordered the school to discipline Thomas for inappropriate language, CPS said. That happened in January 2015.
CPS said further that the former employee who reported the incident was not told how Thomas was disciplined, as per privacy rules.
Finally, CPS said investigations involving alleged corporal abuse by Thomas were deemed “unfounded based on the accounts of students, staff and educators who were interviewed for the investigation.”