CHICAGO—After 25 years of commendable service to Chicago’s youth as a teacher, assistant principal and principal, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) removed Abdul Muhammad from Lindblom Math and Science Academy after what critics call “a sloppy, one-sided investigation.”
In response, roughly 200 Lindblom students and alumni, as well as former students of Principal Muhammad from CVS High School, Percy L. Julian High School, co-workers, community advocates, and members of the community-at-large attended a town hall meeting and press conference to find out what happened and to express their support for Mr. Muhammad.
In his first, not even full year at Lindblom, Principal Muhammad dramatically decreased school violence, increased school spirit and implemented policies and procedures to ensure the school ran effectively so teachers and staff could do their jobs better, Muhammad’s supporters say, adding he also built relationships with students, parents, area elected officials, local businesses, community organizers and alumni.
Violence in the school had gotten so bad, some parents were considering pulling their children out of the school located at 6130 S. Wolcott Ave.
“I drop my son off and I see him (Mr. Muhammad) in the front, every single morning, greeting students. I pick [my son] up at the end of the day, [Muhammad’s] out again. He’s walking them down to 63rd… . The fights were drastically reduced,” said Troy LaRaviere, parent of a Lindblom student and president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association (CPAA), during the May 18 town hall meeting at St. Sabina Church on Chicago’s South Side.
Not only did parents appreciate this, but students did as well. “I am a sophomore. My freshman year, I was a little scared. There were a lot of fights. The first day of school you (Muhammad) were outside and every day after that,” said Laila Black, a current Lindblom student who attended the town hall meeting. “I saw you putting in a good effort to the kids and the teachers to build relationships.”
“My son is a transfer student at Lindblom and his first week was rocky, but it does something to our young men to see someone they can connect with and matches their culture in power and leading them. I appreciate you addressing all my concerns,” said Charlotte McCann, adding that things have gotten worse since Mr. Muhammad was removed.
“This is a beautiful brother. This is an innocent brother. The students praise him. All of them respect him—faculty members, administrators. They know this man. I’m talking to CPS. They know him, but they don’t want him. A good man. He’s not proselytizing to them. They just don’t like his righteous example,” said Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad, National Assistant to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, at the close of the town hall meeting.
Despite the improvements, CPS abruptly removed Mr. Muhammad on March 31 with no explanation, only telling parents there were “substantiated allegations” against him. Nor did they tell Mr. Muhammad, or give him a chance to refute the allegations.
It was only after the threat of litigation that CPS informed Principal Muhammad of the complaints, which many said came primarily from five White teachers. The “trivial complaints” included ordering supplies for himself before another department had all their supplies, not returning an email, not inviting someone to a meeting and being aware of problems he discovered upon his arrival—not ones he created or allowed.
“We are here to hear the truth, we are here to share the truth, and Lord knows we are here to uphold the truth,” said Afrika Porter, educator, community organizer and entrepreneur who spoke at the event. What they discovered was a pattern of racism, cronyism, religious bigotry and an attack on strong Black male leadership, said supporters.
After interviewing witnesses and reviewing scores of documents, it was found that even before Mr. Muhammad was named principal by the Local School Council (LSC), “Kishasha Williams-Ford, of the Office of Local School Council Relations, Devon LaRosa, chief of Network 16, and a faction of White Lindblom teachers worked against Principal Muhammad” to maintain a status quo, explained Mr. LaRaviere during the meeting.
Mr. Muhammad is fighting to be restored to his position, be exonerated of all charges, and issued a public apology. His supporters are demanding Chicago’s new mayor, Brandon Johnson, get involved, as well as Governor J.B. Pritzker and the U.S. Justice Department.
A letter attempting to undermine Principal Muhammad’s leadership was sent to staff, students and parents by Mr. LaRosa, suggesting that Mr. Muhammad was not qualified to lead Lindblom, according to evidence presented to the audience. However, Mr. Muhammad beat out 11 candidates to earn the job. To even be in the pool, a candidate must obtain all the eligibility requirements mandated by the city and state.
CPS had not responded to calls for an interview by Final Call press time.
A stellar track record
Before Abdul Muhammad arrived at one of his previous assignments, Julian High School, students endured regular fights, robberies, and gang activity; they could not earn college credit, and their graduation rate was 63 percent. After Mr. Muhammad, the behavioral chaos subsided, the graduation rate grew to 76 percent, and students were graduating high school with enough college credits to earn an associate’s degree, supporters said.
Also, before Mr. Muhammad, students at Douglass High School had few enrichment programs and a 61 percent graduation rate. After Muhammad, students benefited from a state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Lab, a budding partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, a music studio, a film studio, a social-emotional recreational program space, and an 82 percent graduation rate, supporters testified. Additionally, Mr. Muhammad is a 2003 Chicago Teacher of the Year and a two-time Golden Apple nominee.
“In society where there are already a lack of resources and people who really care about our youth, I just don’t understand how the decision to remove Mr. Muhammad was ever a consideration,” said Mr. Muhammad’s former student Amber Leaks, who is a youth advocate and community organizer. “There’s not one student that he has taught, mentored or led that will tell you they didn’t feel the love he has for teaching, for the community, and for the students.”
These actions by CPS damage the very children they are charged with protecting and educating, argued supporters.
Ms. Williams-Ford openly opposed Muhammad’s candidacy and pressured the LSC to hire then- Interim Principal Karen-Fitzpatrick Carpenter, whom she reportedly referred to as her “very good friend and classmate.” Additionally, it was on her watch that the name of a candidate whom she did not favor was removed from Lindblom ballots during an LSC election.
Also prior to his arrival, a Lindblom clerk posted on social media that Mr. Muhammad would discriminate against anyone who is “White or gay” and/or “doesn’t act like him” because he’s a Muslim follower of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, supporters allege.
Professionalism and integrity
One of the first things Principal Muhammad did upon arriving at Lindblom was to request an audit, which uncovered problems that warranted his immediate attention. Problems included unapproved fundraisers, theft, policy violations and even ghost payrolling, all under Ms. Fitzpatrick-Carpenter’s watch, supporters charge.
Principal Muhammad knew he’d have to bring in his own team to fix the problems, his defenders state. And, even though he dismissed Ms. Fitzpatrick-Carpenter, he did not divulge his reasons, even while it appeared she organized and rallied alumni and students who love her to protest Muhammad’s decision.
Alumni, unaware of the improprieties Mr. Muhammad discovered, accused him of “stomping on the Eagle’s nest.” Echoing the unsubstantiated rumors and bigotry, a small group of alumni, outraged over Fitzpatrick-Carpenter’s dismissal, in a series of Zoom calls accused Principal Muhammad of being a male chauvinist, intimidated by women, who was going to push his religion on students, ban pork from the building and was not competent to run Lindblom because he was coming from a non-selective enrollment “West Side school.”
Mr. Muhammad refused to soil Ms. Fitzpatrick-Carpenter’s name even when constantly pressured by alumni to give his reasons for her dismissal. He assured the alumni who attacked him that he had an open-door policy and that he would be willing to work with them for the good of the children, regardless of how they felt about him or his decisions.
This dismissal is more about racism and White privilege, explained Mr. LaRaviere. This group of entitled White Chicago Teachers Union members had known only White male principals since this majority Black high school reopened in the early 2000s.
They were upset that Muhammad, a Black man, was making changes. Prior to him, their disregard led to at least two teachers depositing money from student athletic fundraisers into their personal bank accounts. The behavior reveals a group of entitled White teachers obsessed with maintaining their immunity to rules and accountability, he argued.
Lindblom parent Omari Kamal described Lindblom High School Athletic Director Christina Davis’s effort to suppress Lindblom mothers who wanted to hold a banquet for the boys’ basketball team. Mr. Kamal attributed Davis’s resistance to something she said during a conversation attempting to convince him to oppose Mr. Muhammad.
“She told me, ‘It’s very hard to even do the things that we would have been doing before because we don’t want this principal to be able to point to our efforts and say he did that.’ The basketball team had a winning season. The moms wanted to have a completely parent-funded event, and (Davis) did everything she could to stop it.
“You have someone who’s so set on her own agenda to oust a principal such that (she) would rail against an event that’s designed to honor our student-athletes without any awareness, wherewithal, care, or concern that the ones who really suffer are the boys—the students. I shudder to think that this is somebody who has a real responsibility toward our students. It’s beyond not honoring them. It’s damaging to the boys,” he said.
The evidence suggests that in response to this “smear campaign,” CPS official Kelly Tarrant–with the blessings of her superiors–weaponized the CPS Law Department to launch an unethical, one-sided investigation aimed at prejudicing Mr. Muhammad and convicting him without any credible evidence, asserts Mr. LaRaviere.
Ms. Davis also put school money into her personal bank account, brought her toddler to school, which is against CPS policy, and got multiple cheerleaders injured due to negligence, Mr. LaRaviere continued. But her input was used by the network chief and the law department to manufacture their case against Muhammad, he said.
The Law Department only interviewed members of the teacher faction while neglecting their responsibility to examine documents and failing to interview at least 28 people who could have contradicted the testimony of the teacher faction, said Mr. LaRaviere.
Mr. Muhammad’s case is part of a larger troubling phenomenon where at least six Black principals have been removed by CPS officials this school year. To get involved in Principal Muhammad’s fight for justice, visit www.justiceforabdulmuhammad.com for more information.