Chicago’s new parks chief vows to establish a ‘culture of respect’ in wake of lifeguard abuse scandal

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At a town hall meeting on Monday, the Chicago Park District chief reassured a concerned mother that policy changes being put in place would prevent supervisors from taking advantage of young lifeguards — the kind of behavior that has sparked a sexual misconduct scandal l ‘last year.

“As superintendent, you have my word that I will do everything in my power to ensure nothing like this happens again,” Park District CEO Rosa Escareno told an audience at the Horner Sports Complex. Park before listing a number of reforms that would increase accountability. and giving young rescuers the confidence to recognize and report bad behavior.

“We don’t just give you lip service here,” she said.

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Escareno is acting chief. Her predecessor, Michael Kelly, resigned after a number of cases of abuse by female lifeguards at beaches and public swimming pools came to light last year.

A woman who only asked to be identified as a mother in the North Center neighborhood said she had a 15-year-old daughter and was in a junior lifeguard program. She wanted to make sure that part of a revamped training program for future lifeguards would include information about “no touch” areas on the body.

Escareno assured him that such training would be in place and that the new Chicago Park District Office of Prevention and Accountability would take unprecedented steps to create a “culture of respect.”

After the meeting, the mother said her daughter had been placed in inappropriate situations a few years ago.

“I wasn’t comfortable with the conduct of the leaders of this program, like asking her for social media, asking her to go for a walk. And once I pointed that out to her, she had an ‘aha ! Moment “and it didn’t happen again because she realized it wasn’t appropriate, but not all kids have that realization,” she said.

She says she now feels better about the direction the park district is heading.

“I trust the process. I feel like it demonstrates that it’s taken seriously,” she said.

Still, she keeps a close eye on things and if in a year “I don’t see the proof…I might have a different opinion.”

Monday’s meeting was the first of three such town hall meetings that will allow residents to provide feedback ahead of an April council vote that would formally approve the creation of the Office of Prevention and Accountability.

Another upcoming meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Fosco Park, 1312 S. Racine Avenue. A virtual meeting will also take place on March 29.

Also at Monday’s meeting, former 33rd Ward Ald. Deb Mell, during a question-and-answer session with members of the public, suggested the Park District acquire the land along the Chicago River that once housed Gordon Tech High School and turn it into green space.

“We’ll look into it. We just need more money,” Escareno replied.

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