Breaking: Latin to Return All Paycheck Protection Funds

This pie chart, from the 2019 annual report, illustrates the percentage of families that donated to Latin last school year.

Latin School

This pie chart, from the 2019 annual report, illustrates the percentage of families that donated to Latin last school year.

Peter Jones, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On April 28, Headmaster Randall Dunn shared a statement with the Latin community that cleared up many of their lingering Paycheck-Protection-related concerns–yes, Latin received the money, and yes, they’re returning it all.

“Since the COVID-19 crisis began,” said Mr. Dunn, “we have sought to make the best decisions … in order to navigate these unchartered waters in alignment with our school values.”

Most would say Latin’s best-known of those values is Fidelitas, prominently etched across the school crest. The phrase, which translates to loyalty, is often extrapolated to other areas of moral righteousness: caring for others, respecting one’s peers, exhibiting integrity, and so on and so forth. Thus, the school’s decision to return the entirety of its federal rescue funding can be read as an acknowledgment that its previous move–applying for PPP funding in the first place–stood directly against those ethical values. 

When The Forum reported first on the school’s ethically-ambiguous decision to apply, much of the larger controversy on who deserves funding had yet to take place. Since that April 18th article, many institutions and companies have faced similar criticism for drawing from the finite pool of cash. The Chicago-based Potbelly Sandwich Shop, along with other restaurant chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, has since decided to return the millions it acquired from the program. Elite universities with loaded endowments like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, too, have elected to give back the money. 

So, when Latin’s administrators pursued the loans, they found themselves in a maelstrom of controversy and backlash, much of which trickled down from accusations against larger companies. How could the Latin School of Chicago, a prominent, wealthy private school, take federal funding when other institutions and businesses have faced such harsh reactions for doing the same? Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine reported twice on the situation, each time crediting The Forum for first bringing the dilemma to the city’s attention. 

Considering that the board believes they can do without the funds, I question why it was necessary to apply in the first place.”

— Rashail Wasim '21

Since the initial announcement that the school would apply, some of those who justified the decision have changed their minds. Rashail Wasim, the Discourses editor who previously supported Latin, said today, “Considering that the board believes they can do without the funds, I question why it was necessary to apply in the first place. Everyone knew funds were limited from the start, so I’m curious what specifically led Latin to rescind its application.” 

Others remain unsure that the school should succumb to the community’s ethical qualms. Henry Coleman and Marianne Mihas, who will lead the Latin Student Investment Fund next fall, issued a joint statement: “While we both understand the cries from many that wanted Latin to give back the money, it seems like the school now does face some financial consequences. Due to the impending recession, the school may well bring in fewer donations, which might result in fewer kids being able to attend Latin on scholarship.”

The return of these funds will have no immediate impact on our people or our programs.”

— Randall Dunn, Headmaster

The accuracy of Mihas’ and Coleman’s words can be confirmed only by the passage of time. Mr. Dunn has, however, guaranteed that the immediate impact on faculty will be minimal. 

“Teachers have been assured by Mr. Dunn that protecting our salaries and jobs is one of the school’s foremost priorities through this uncertain time,” said Zach McArthur, an upper school math teacher. 

Students, too, will be safe from any immediate financial repercussions: “As I have stated, both the board and the senior leadership of the school remain committed to minimizing the disruption of the pandemic on our students, families, and employees as well as ensuring the stability of the school in the long term. The return of these funds will have no immediate impact on our people or our programs,” continued Mr. Dunn in his statement.

And so it seems the Paycheck Protection controversy has come to an end. The only remaining mystery: why exactly did Latin choose this moment for a change of heart?