The Latin School of Chicago in Shambles
Depravity, “rules for thee and not for me” and bullying culture appear systemic at Chicago’s most elite private school
What do Doug Sohn (Hot Doug’s), Carol Fox Flanigan (Co-Founder of the Lyric Opera of Chicago), William Wrigley (creator of the famed gum company), Lisa Madigan (Former Illinois Attorney General), Donny and Teddi Pritzker (children of current Governor J.B. Pritzker) all have in common? If you said they all attended the prestigious Latin School of Chicago, you would be correct!
Likely none of these famed alumni, with the exception of the Pritzker children who most recently attended the school, have any sense of what has become of their beloved alma mater.
Why even today, the Latin School of Chicago ranks as the third best high school in Illinois out of 142 private schools and nationally, number 141 out of 4,323 private high schools and only ranks below that of the famed University of Chicago Laboratory School as the top independent school in the Chicagoland region, according to Niche.com.
In short, Latin arguably remains the most elite school in the city of Chicago.
Yet nine months ago, 15-year old Nate Bronstein ended his life as a result of cruel and vicious cyberbullying from numerous classmates while attending the Latin School of Chicago. The child-perpetrators, a number of which were privileged children of families named in a lengthy lawsuit filed by the Bronstein family, allegedly have officially faced no consequences. And the former Latin School of Chicago Board Chairman David Koo continues to serve as the Board of Trustees Chair for the Shedd Aquarium. It remains unclear as to what David Koo’s role is in this story, but this will come out in the lawsuit.
Beyond the allegations surrounding Mr. Koo and other community members, not only have the kids involved in the matter not faced any consequences which anyone Chicago Contrarian spoke to is aware of, a “narrative” in the community has developed portraying Nate as troubled teen who struggled to form friendships at his “new school,” was prone to emotional outbursts and generally, “did not fit in” with the Latin culture. Of course all of these comments could not be further from the truth. By all accounts, and Chicago Contrarian has spoken with many parents close to the story, Nate presented as a typical teen with plenty of friends.
Nate, Contrarian is told, cracked a lot of jokes and loved to make his friends laugh. In fact, Nate loved sports and often talked about his future. Nate was empathetic, kind, some would say even a mensch (a person with integrity and honor). Nate played basketball at Oz Park and his friends at Francis Parker, his former school, were thrilled to hear that Nate would return to school for the second semester. Regrettably, Nate's friends never got the chance to welcome him back.
Instead, many members of the wider community have engaged in “Victim Blaming,” perhaps to make themselves feel better or assuage their guilt. Regardless, the specific legal definition according to USLegal.com defines Victim Blaming as:
“A devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them. Victim blaming can appear in the form of negative social reactions from legal, medical, and mental health professionals, as well as from the media and immediate family members and other acquaintances. Traditionally, victim-blaming has emerged in racist and sexist forms. The reason for victim blaming can be attributed to THE misconceptions about victims, perpetrators, and the nature of violent acts.”
Several parents of current students with whom Contrarian spoke, swiftly came to the defense of the school. When specifically told that the child actually had no previous emotional or mental health issues, the immediate reaction was shifted to the parents and Nate. The school remained a pillar of the community. However, the Bronsteins contend that their child met with the Dean of the School to report a cyber bullying attack via Snapchat and he specifically asked that the Dean not report the meeting to his parents. Despite Nate’s plea, the Dean, according to Illinois law, was required to both immediately notify the parents, as well as notify her superior – in this case Head of School Randall Dunn, as well as conduct a formal investigation.
Chicago Contrarian filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to review police records from 2017-2022. One incident was reported. In September 2018, an incident involved a “Sex Offense/Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse” between a staff member and a child and occurred in the lower school. No police reports were filed for either 2021 or 2022, and nothing was reported to the police with regard to the cyberbullying of Nate Bronstein.
Perhaps more insidious, however, the perpetrators of the cyberbullying allegedly have faced no repercussions for their actions, offered no apologies to the family and continue to attend Latin without the revocation of any privileges.
A subscription message board website, Northside Parents Network (NPN) contained a voluminous string from concerned Latin parents regarding how the school handled the death of Nate Bronstein. Several of those threads appear below and convey both shock and utter disgust at the way the school handled Nate’s death:
- I am not sure if the school is legally responsible but absolutely, they are morally responsible. I think many well-intentioned adults tried to help this family, many of who we know to be very kind and caring people. But I am happy that this lawsuit has exposed the real lack of management from the top at Latin, and the culture that favors/protects some kids over others. I am not sure if it was last year, or 2019, but at that time a group of boys were expelled for a racially insensitive group text which wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened here. Those families were not connected in the way the ones in this incident are. The kids involved here should have been expelled as soon as these texts came to light, however it appears there were zero consequences, and it was covered up. What I hope to see is people step down from the board and reform starting there. (Editor’s note: the Contrarian reviewed this other incident, see below)
- Connections count. Google the names and look at the Latin board…. it’s nauseating. Was there an investigation immediately after the parents told the school about the boys death? What was the protocol? So many questions and so few answers. It all boils down to a school’s culture. And leadership. The Board and head of school have mismanaged this.
- Latin parent here but kids aren’t in upper school. Disgusted, sickened, horrified, angered. A few of the feelings that come to mind. The school never said anything when this happened and as of this moment, hasn’t said anything. There has been no leadership at the school for a couple of years now and it’s become increasingly clear what matters to them the most.
- My sadness is beginning to give way to anger. Latin could have created a small silver lining out of all of this pain and loss if they were willing to be transparent. They could have used it as a teaching moment for students. They could have identified their mistakes and used this knowledge to improve integration of new students (which is currently terrible) and safeties for students who are struggling. Instead, they seem to have decided it is more important to close ranks and cover their (legal) behinds.
Based on extensive secondary research including: Undercover Mothers, NPN, the Bronstein lawsuit, Survivors of Latin and numerous discussions with those close to the matter, Chicago Contrarian has identified three key themes which have emerged from this tragedy, of which some of these themes may come out in the lawsuit. The case will move ahead in the courts as the school and the family failed to reach a mediated settlement a couple of weeks ago.
These themes are:
- Inconsistencies as to what constitutes a violation of Latin rules and policies along with requisite punishments;
- Numerous alleged acts of criminality within the school community;
- An elitist culture that at all costs “protects its own”
Rules for thee and not for me
Contrarian has learned several years ago, three boys were close to expulsion from Latin (before the families pulled the kids from the school, one may have actually been expelled) based on multiple accusations of being racist and homophobic. The boys in this instance posted inappropriate memes on social media. One depicted a “map” showing Nazi emblems and other racial slurs by geographic region. Another social media message indicated that one of the boys (a white boy) would not “do” an African American because he was not attracted to African American women. The message also referenced African American women as having AIDS. And yet another message specifically called out a Latin student. Yet a third accusation involved a posted ‘gangster playlist’ on social media, using a racial slur for the list.
The kids who perpetrated these activities deserved punishment.
In fact, Latin came down swiftly and hard on the students. One or more of the boys was not allowed to attend athletic events and even had a restraining order filed against him. The boys lost school email privileges and another was immediately expelled. According to sources, at no point did then-Head of School Randall Dunn provide any information to the accused or the parents of the accused as to the identity of the accuser, though it is widely known that the accuser was the child of a highly influential and privileged member of the community.
Now let’s juxtapose this situation with that of the alleged perpetrators of the death of Nate Bronstein.
Note: Chicago Contrarian has obtained a photo of one of the bullying comments, widely shared by at least seven Latin kids and circulated throughout multiple Chicago high schools.
The caption “Bronstein pack” is a play on words of the slang phrase “Opp pack”, which in turn refers to a deceased person while smoking a joint or a blunt. The phrase “Opp Pack” comes from the lyrics of a 2015 song, “Off the Tooka” by Chief Keef, a Chicago rap artist who also happens to be a member of the Chicago gang, the Black Disciples. The lyrics “smoking a Tooka pack” refers to smoking marijuana “laced with the ashes of his deceased opponent.”
The implication of the meaning behind the photo should appear clear to everyone.
Yet the kids who individually targeted Nate Bronstein and asked him to kill himself faced no:
- Restraining orders or
This allegedly included the privileged children of highly influential parents in the school.
Where there is smoke, there is fire
In June of 2020, an Instagram account called “Survivors of Latin” began to post anonymous stories of students, alumni, parents and faculty who have had to “endure the denial of their humanity during what should have been an affirming and joyous time for all of us.” This Survivors of Latin account has shared dozens of stories. Many of the incidents and anecdotes shared in that forum would make anyone sick to their stomachs, but several in particular, allege that Latin has covered up actual crimes including rape and sexual harassment. Consider the following anecdotes, taken from “Survivors of Latin:”
Alumni, Class of 2020
Three kids used a last test to cheat on their final. Two were honest and came forth, the other got his rich dad to fly in and lawyered up. Latin caved in once again.
Alumni, Class of 2018
I (female) was sexually harassed by another student (male) at the school. The administration knew about it and only gave him a minor punishment. The student was Black. I have a feeling they gave him such a small punishment because he was a student of color and didn’t want to seem racist since they never do anything when the white students do similar things.
Student, Class of 2021
[redacted] ‘21 told several people in my class that I lied about being raped and told several of my teachers I made up my trauma for attention. She’s done this to other women too, and when I began to distance myself from her she began cyber bullying me and attacking me. She has gone unchecked by the administration and other students for the horrid things she has said about me and other people. I have nightmares about her.
In addition, sources tell Contrarian that a former employee allegedly had multiple sexual harassments complaints filed against him, which were reported to senior leadership, but no action was ever taken and no official complaint ever filed. That staff member went on to another school and was subsequently fired, according to sources. Chicago FOIA requests garnered no police reports filed going back to 2017.
And finally, as if alleged rape, harassment and bullying don’t sound enough alarm bells, Contrarian, through a 990 review of publicly available data, shows what appears to be anomalous (based on size) salary data for a one Ms. Kristen Provencher who served as the assistant to head of school, Randall Dunn. Ms. Provencher, according to sources, “came as a package with Mr. Dunn,” when he accepted his new head of school position at the Rye Country Day School. Furthermore, her total compensation package appears well above the norm in 2019 ($181,832) compared with industry benchmarks for a similar position (as an assistant, Ms. Provencher made more in total compensation than a number of senior faculty members and administrators in 2019, and more than assistants to many Fortune 500 CEOs, who oversee staff sizes, annual budgets and P&Ls 10x the size of Latin’s).
Let them eat cake
If a picture could tell a thousand words, Latin School of Chicago elitism and privilege looks like this:
These are alumni and in many cases, lifelong friends, most of whom appear to remain publicly committed to a radical DEI and critical race theory (CRT) ideology that is increasingly looking like it could be cover for unethical, inconsistently applied and illegal behavior, alongside a potential other smokescreen, continued property purchases in Gold Coast to drive expansion. As Sun Tzu suggests in The Art of War, sometimes when you meet an opponent against which you will not achieve victory directly, cleverly engineered diversionary tactics can take everyone’s eye off the actual battlefield.
In this highly elite circle are children who faced zero consequences and instead, engaged in victim shaming, as well as the former head of school Randall Dunn, who has taken the helm of the Rye Country Day School, all while his Latin staff have quietly exited in droves (the Assistant Head of School, the Middle School Director, the Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives – who pulled her own children out of the school – all have plans to leave Latin, according to sources).
Latin sits at a crossroads as the Bronstein lawsuit goes to court. On the one hand, the vast majority of parents, according to the various NPN email streams, remain deeply sympathetic to the family. On the other hand, many members of the Latin community look like innocent victims of an institution resting on its past elite reputation to paper over malfeasance. But what is clear based on all the primary sources Contrarian has examined and fact checked for this article going back multiple years is that the Latin School Board of Directors and former Head of School appear to have formed a collective elite circle to protect themselves, honoring the school’s Latin motto Semper Fidelitas* (faithfulness always).
And if the Bronstein allegations prove true in court, the price of this faithfulness could be material indeed.
*In an e-mail to the Latin community about the tragedy earlier this year, Randall Dunn suggested the school encouraged everyone to abide by its moniker “fideles” — or to be always “loyal” to the school. This communication did not come after the tragedy, but after the lawsuit.
It was the first “official” communication from the school.