CPS parents upset that principal shamed girls, said shorts too short
BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporteremail@example.com July 8, 2013 11:08PM
Amelia Leja, 11, with her father, Ken Leja. She was one of the girls singled out for wearing short shorts. Her father said she had cut up several pairs of jeans so her shorts would fit the school's guidelines. Amelia's mother, Debra Leja, addressed the local school council — dressed in short shorts. | Mitch Dudek~Sun-Times
Updated: August 10, 2013 6:42AM
Parents gathered at a North Side school Monday night to express outrage over a Chicago Public School principal’s method of publicly shaming several female students who wore shorts she deemed too short on the final day of school last month.
At Decatur Classical School’s end-of-year awards ceremony in the school’s West Rogers Park gym, Principal Susan J. Kukielka said she had one last award to hand out, according to parents at the meeting. Decatur is a selective-enrollment kindergarten through sixth-grade school.
“She asked all the girls to stand up and said, ‘We have one final award, it’s an award of distinction, and she walked around the room and pointed out seven girls and told all the other girls to sit down,” said Aaron Greven, whose 10-year-old daughter, Ella, was one of the girls left standing. “And then she said, ‘These are not girls of distinction because their shorts are too short.’ ”
Another school administrator then explained that if this happened at a North Side high school that they could attend, the girls might be made to wear “sweatpants of shame.”
“My daughter tried her best not to cry,” Greven said after Monday night’s Local School Council meeting. “She cried later as she told her mother what happened. My daughter doesn’t even choose her own clothes. We buy her clothes. She was wearing sports shorts that day. It’s ridiculous.”
Members of the school’s Local School Council, a group of parents, teachers and members of the community, said there is no dress code at the school, but announcements over the school’s public address system several days earlier noted that shorts should not be higher than the fingertips when the arms are placed straight down the sides of the body.
Jill Martensen, an LSC member, said CPS had opened an investigation into the matter.
“The last thing in the world my daughter wants is to be picked out of a crowd. . . . She was hugely embarrassed and humiliated,” said Greven, an architect. “It’s just a shock, how could someone with so much training with children not realize the damage of publicly shaming young girls and calling focus to their bodies.”
Kukielka, who sent letters of apology for her actions, addressed about 50 parents Monday after hearing scathing reviews of her disciplinary methods.
“I care about each and every student. . . . I have listened, I have heard, I have read your concerns. . . . I have taken responsibility. . . . As principal, I love Decatur. . . . I work hard and try to do my best every day,” Kukielka said.
Two students read a letter calling for their principal to get a chance to change, echoing the forgiving attitudes of a few others, but several parents called on her to resign, labeling the behavior a top-down trend of using public humiliation as a form of discipline at the school.
Amelia Leja, 11, was one of the girls who was singled out for wearing short shorts.
“I felt she was just trying to pick on the kids because it was the last day of school,” she said. “It made me feel very upset. I think it’s time for her to find another road because she has been rude to the students, and I feel like she scares them. She can be very strict, and I feel like kids would be afraid to ask her for things.”
Amelia’s father, Ken Leja, an IT consultant, said she had cut up several pairs of jeans so her shorts would fit the school’s guidelines. Amelia’s mother, Deborah Leja, addressed meeting Monday night — dressed in short shorts.