Ogden Principal Joshua VanderJagt Steps Down After Bullying Incident
WEST TOWN — Ogden International School Principal Joshua VanderJagt has asked to be reassigned following an incident involving anti-Semitic bullying that outraged parents and led to the student offenders being banned from graduation.
"Mr. VanderJagt has asked to be reassigned within the District and I have granted this request," Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement issued Friday. "I agree with Mr. VanderJagt that the students, parents and the school community will be best served by a new principal of their choosing."
"Principal Josh VanderJagt recently led Ogden International through a challenging time," Byrd-Bennett said.
The challenges surrounded allegations from Ogden parent Lisa Wolf Clemente that her 14-year-old and 8-year-old sons were bullied at both campuses by classmates for their Jewish heritage.
The Gold Coast resident said her teen son was shown photos of ovens and told to get in during lunch periods, intended as a reference to the Holocaust.
At the Streeterville campus, Wolf Clemente said her 8-year-old was invited to join a team called "Jew Incinerator" on the popular game app Clash of Clans. The team was allegedly created by Ogden eighth-graders.
In a screenshot provided by parents, the team description reads: "We are a friendly group of racists with one goal — put all Jews into an army camp until disposed of. Sieg! Heil!"
According to CPS, VanderJagt launched an investigation after Wolf Clemente reported that her children were being bullied for being Jewish.
A petition calling for VanderJagt to resign or be terminated circulated online at the time, gathering 414 signatures, though a several dozen were recorded from outside the Chicago area, including one from Germany and another from the U.K.
Ultimately, three eighth-grade students received one day of out-of-school suspension and one day of in-school suspension, while others were given one day suspensions. The students were also barred from participating in eighth grade graduation ceremonies. A CPS spokesman said that was VanderJagt's decision, which was supported by the district.
"VanderJagt's highest priority is a safe learning environment that allows students to focus on their studies," Byrd-Bennett continued Friday. "He recognized that his continued leadership of the school would be a distraction and prolong the healing process for the school community."
Local School Council Chairwoman Tracy Shine said Friday afternoon that she hadn't been notified of VanderJagt and CPS' decision.
VanderJagt was hand-picked by the school's LSC in December after the two-campus neighborhood school's previous principal departed in dramatic fashion.
Former Principal Kenneth Staral and assistant principal Anthony Vandarakis were both abruptly "reassigned" last July amid an investigation CPS would describe only as a "personnel issue."
After five months of searching for a suitable candidate to head the 1,600-student school, which has a lower-grade branch in Streeterville and middle and high school levels in West Town, the LSC celebrated VanderJagt's appointment three months after classes started for the 2013-2014 school year.
The Local School Council will have to repeat the process. As with Staral's departure, an interim replacement will be chosen by CPS while candidates for a full-time replacement are sought.
VanderJagt previously served as assistant principal at Kenwood Academy, where he was nominated for the Golden Apple Teacher Award for Excellence in Teaching and coached the varsity and junior varsity football teams.
"As I hear it there were some really emotional feelings about taking you from there," council Chairman Stanley Kusper said at the December LSC meeting before introducing VanderJagt to parents and students in attendance.
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