After 14 years as Jones College Prep (JCP) principal, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has removed Joseph Powers from his position pending an investigation. CPS based Powers’s dismissal on his allowing a student to parade around the school wearing a Nazi-like uniform.
CPS placed Powers on leave just four days after the student goose-stepped in JCP’s first ever Halloween parade. In an email to parents following the parade, Powers appeared to downplay the student’s gestures, saying the student was misinformed about the type of uniform he was wearing, even though the student had told others he was wearing a Nazi uniform. Powers said the student’s uniform was an East German border guard uniform, probably from the 1980s.
Gazette Chicago covered the controversial administrator earlier this year when local school council (LSC) members wanted to remove Powers for ignoring problematic teachers and doing little to disrupt an alleged culture of race- and gender-based discrimination. At that point, Powers had both strong opposition and strong support from the Jones community, and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez opted not to dismiss him, citing insufficient evidence to remove Powers “at this time.”
In late April, Martinez sent a letter encouraging the LSC and Powers to “hit the reset button on their relationship and focus their energies on productive actions that will advance the interests of students.” He also noted “investigations are ongoing.”
Following the Halloween incident, however, Martinez called it “completely inconsistent with our values as a school district” and appointed veteran CPS administrator and former JCP principal Arthur Slater to take over Powers’s post immediately. Removing Powers meant removing Jones’s independent school principal status, with full control of the selective-enrollment school reverting to the district.
The incident “also comes at a time when hateful speech and hateful attacks are on the rise, especially against Jewish Americans,” Martinez wrote in an email to the Jones community. The removal came after clips of the student goose-stepping in the parade surfaced online. In one clip, the student is swinging his arm and leg in a move associated with Nazi soldiers and giving a Nazi salute to a booing crowd.
In a photo attached to the post, Powers stands next to the student in the costume.
No information is available on whether CPS is disciplining the student for the incident.
In the days following Powers’s removal, CPS initiated new safety protocols at Jones, adding extra security and implementing full entry screening for students and visitors. According to a CPS spokesperson, representatives from CPS’s Office of Social and Emotional Learning have been onsite to evaluate the school’s culture while helping faculty and staff develop interventions to deescalate situations if necessary.
The school also is working with the Office of Student Protections and Title IX to improve staff responses to bias-based behaviors, providing space for students to discuss and process incidents that affect them, a CPS spokesperson said.
Jones has endured multiple controversies during Powers’s tenure, including a longtime theater teacher’s firing last fall after students complained about “offensive comments.” Some LSC members, parents, and students also admonished Powers for downplaying racist incidents, including one in which a student used a “Build The Wall” reference in the high school yearbook in June.
“In my opinion, this removal completely vindicates the decision of the previous LSC,” said Cassie Creswell, former LSC chair. “The decision to remove the principal pending investigation was made by central office. The current LSC, who all ran on a platform firmly in support of the principal, played no role in his removal. CEO Martinez should have removed the principal in March 2022, if not earlier.”
One week after the Halloween parade, Jones students gathered for a sit-in rally on Nov. 7 to call for change in the school culture regarding longstanding discrimination, including further action against remaining administrators who they say are not taking the incidents seriously.
Jones College Prep is located at 700 S. State St. For information, log on to www.jonescollegeprep.org.