A prominent graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and a leader in the country’s charter school movement is facing allegations of sexual misconduct that have resulted in his termination from the charter school network he helped to found.
Michael Feinberg — a 1987 graduate of OPRF and a 2005 recipient of the high school’s Tradition of Excellence Award who in 1994 co-founded, along with his longtime friend Dave Levin, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) — was terminated from the organization on Thursday.
According to a joint statement by KIPP’s top two administrators, released Feb. 22 on its website, an independent investigation found evidence supporting an allegation of sexual misconduct against Feinberg, who grew up in River Forest.
“Although the incidents investigated allegedly occurred many years ago, and Mr. Feinberg categorically denies any wrongdoing, credible evidence was found of conduct that is incompatible with the mission and values of KIPP,” the statement reads.
KIPP officials said that the investigation “was triggered last spring by an allegation of sexual abuse of a student by Mr. Feinberg in the late 1990s.” The incident, they added, had never before been reported to KIPP authorities. After learning about the incident, KIPP officials said that they immediately contacted Texas Child Protective Services.
“KIPP Houston Public Schools then began its own investigation, which was carried out by KIPP Houston’s external counsel,” officials stated. “After receiving initial findings in the fall, KIPP Houston and the KIPP Foundation jointly hired WilmerHale, a law firm with significant experience investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, to conduct a thorough independent investigation.”
During its investigation, WilmerHale “presented evidence of sexual harassment by Mr. Feinberg involving an adult KIPP alumna who was employed by KIPP Houston in 2004, which led to a financial settlement at the time,” KIPP officials said in the statement.
“A second credible harassment claim against Mr. Feinberg, involving another adult alumna employed by KIPP Houston from the same time period, could not be corroborated,” officials said.
Feinberg’s lawyer, Christopher L. Tritico, told reporters that his client denies the allegations, which he said the educator learned at a meeting on Thursday in Houston, where Feinberg and Levin started the first KIPP charter school with roughly 50 fifth-graders.
Since founding that first school more than two decades ago, KIPP’s model — premised on longer school days, higher expectations among teachers and free open enrollment for it’s mostly low-income, minority student-body — has spread to cities across the country, including New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
According to a recent New York Times article on Feinberg’s termination, the program “achieved extraordinary results with poor and minority schoolchildren and became a model that many others sought to replicate around the country. Today it has nearly 90,000 students and 209 schools in 20 states.”
In 2003, the KIPP Ascend Charter School opened in Chicago’s Austin community. Oak Park resident and Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 school board member Jim O’Connor was the school’s founding principal.
According to IRS filing statements obtained by ProPublica, the Houston-based education nonprofit took in roughly $140 million in revenue in 2016. Feinberg received nearly $232,000 in salary and benefits for his work with the schools and an additional roughly $220,000 for his work with the schools’ San Francisco-based parent foundation.
Feinberg and Levin received substantial public recognition for their efforts, appearing on platforms such as the Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 Minutes. In 2005, Feinberg was awarded a Tradition of Excellence Award from his alma mater.
So far, it isn’t known what affect these recent allegations will have on Feinberg’s Tradition of Excellence status. When reached on Friday afternoon, District 200 spokeswoman Karin Sullivan said that the district will look into the situation.