The Chicago principal who faced criticism after reporting a Black mom to the Department of Children and Family Services after her 10-year-old son was picked up from school seven minutes after the district deadline has announced her immediate resignation.
Daniela Bylaitis, principal at Inter-American Magnet School, did not mention the controversial incident or the backlash that followed in a resignation email sent to the school community on Tuesday, April 27, but said she had chosen to transition to a “non-school-based role” at Chicago Public Schools.
Parent JaNay Dodson said she broke down in tears of joy after learning of that Bylaitis was resigning. “I was ecstatic,” said the mother of 10-year-old Braylin Harvey.
Dodson, also a CPS teacher, told Block Club Chicago she was preparing to teach a virtual science class at Hyde Park Academy on March 2 when she realized she would be late picking Braylin up from Inter-American Magnet School in time for 4 p.m. dismissal. The family was having bus route issues with the school according to Dodson.
She couldn’t reach anyone at the school or leave the class, so she called her brother, who left work and picked Braylin up at 4:37.
“And that was the end — so I thought,” Dodson said.
Two days later, Braylin was pulled out of class and questioned by a DCFS investigator.
“He didn’t know who she was, but he told me they pulled him out to ask him some questions about home,” Dodson said. “And when it dawned on me that [the school] had actually called DCFS, I did a U-turn and went right back to the school.”
When Dodson approached Bylaitis and asked who had been speaking to Braylin, the principal confirmed it was someone from DCFS.
Then another investigator from the welfare agency showed up at Dodson’s home to conduct an inspection and obtain contact information for people who could provide information about her parenting.
According to a CPS policy sent out to principals on Feb. 5, if a student who can’t travel home by themselves is left at the school after dismissal, staff members should attempt to contact the parents as well as all listed emergency contacts, and advise them that DCFS will be contacted if the child is not picked up by 4:30.
Dodson said no one called her on March 2 and that her attempts to contact the school were not returned. Through phone and email, she tried to contact the school to let them know her brother would be picking Braylin up a little late, but received no response.
But the next day, she received an email from Bylaitis about having missed the 4:30 cutoff the previous day.
“Yesterday, Braylin was not picked up from school until 4:37 p.m.,” Bylaitis wrote in the email obtained by Block Club Chicago. “I am empathetic to the challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities, however, all school employees are mandated reporters and are required to follow CPS protocols and guidance. Please be sure that Braylin is picked up on time tomorrow.”
Dodson said that at the time she didn’t know the authorities would be getting involved. “I thought it was a threat. But I didn’t realize that she had actually called DCFS,” Dodson said.
Dodson said she believes race played a role in the principal’s decision to contact DCFS. That same week she waited for the last child to be picked up which was about 4:47 p.m. and approached that parent to inquire if DCFS were ever called. Dodson found out it was the third time the other parent had picked up his son late but he had not been reported to DCFS.
“So that’s when I realized she doesn’t apply the so-called protocols to everyone,” Dodson said. “I realized the only difference between me and everyone else is that I was Black.”
Dodson said she spoke to other parents who had been late picking up their children as the school finalized bus schedules, but that none of them had been reported to DCFS.
At a meeting in March after the incident, other parents from the school community criticized school staff members for their handling of the situation.
“It seems that the school community failed to show any compassion, grace and peace to this family. I would argue that the entire Inter-American school community failed,” one parent said.
A letter dated March 15 attached to a petition started by “concerned parents and stakeholders holders” to have the principal removed was addressed to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Dr. Janice Jackson, Chicago Public Schools CEO, Will Fletcher, Chicago Public Schools Inspector General and Maurice Swinney, Chicago Public Schools Chief Equity Officer. The parents provided the full policy as stated in the handbook.
- School staff should call the parent or guardian who usually picks up the student. If that person cannot be reached, staff should leave a voice message, if possible, stating, “If the parent, guardian, or emergency contact does not come to the school to pick up the child by 4:30 p.m., the school will be obligated to call the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Child and Family Services hotline to report child neglect.” Staff should leave the same voice message with all emergency contacts.
- If by 4:30 p.m., the parent, guardian, or emergency contact has not been reached and/or no one has come to pick up the student, school staff should call:
- DCFS hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE (252-2873) to report child neglect; and
- CPS Student Safety Center at 773-553-3335 to explain that a student is stranded and provide the student’s emergency contact information.
- If the parent, guardian, or emergency contact calls back or picks up the child, the school should call the CPS Student Safety Center to provide an update.
The letter noted that “although the protocol states that the parent and emergency contacts should have been called prior to notifying DCFS and that DCFS should have been contacted when the child had not been picked up by 4:30pm, the principal did not report this incident to DCFS until Wednesday, March 3rd, a day when children were not in attendance at the school.” It continued, “On Thursday March 4th, the child was removed from his classroom and questioned by a DCFS employee. We suspect that the questioning of this student did not follow CPS policy.”
The letter concludes with a request “that the policy of calling DCFS if children are not picked up on time be removed from CPS guidance” and “that the district investigate the alleged differential application of this policy to racially marginalized parents in our community.”
The Chicago Teachers Union also expressed support for Dodson.
Dodson wants the CPS policy to be changed and for Bylaitis to be placed on a “do not hire” list for other schools.
“I don’t want the board to think that her resigning from IAMS is fixing the problem, because it’s not,” she said.
Bylaitis is also in hot water after another parent, Beatriz Gomez, claimed that after a school staffer touched her daughter inappropriately in January 2020 the principal and the school leaders discouraged her from reporting the incident. Gomez said she filed the report anyway but school leaders did not follow up with her.
A CPS spokesperson said the district’s policy surrounding dismissal and pick-up is under review.