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updated: 4/25/2012 5:56 PM

Text messages from dean were "weird," Stevenson High student told police

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  • A Stevenson High School dean resigned after sending inappropriate text messages to a male student, officials said.

       A Stevenson High School dean resigned after sending inappropriate text messages to a male student, officials said.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

A Stevenson High School dean who resigned last week sent texts to a student who told authorities the messages were "weird" and made him feel uncomfortable, police reports obtained by the Daily Herald show.

In one message, then-dean Paul Weil commented on the 18-year-old student's job by saying his uniform was "hot."

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In another text, Weil cautioned the young man not to come back from an out-of-state trip "with a venereal disease."

The messages, exchanged over several months, were not criminal in nature or overtly sexual, Lincolnshire police said. As a result, no charges have been filed, and none are planned.

However, the messages were "odd," Police Chief Peter Kinsey said.

"Most parents or adults, if they read the text messages, would find them disturbing and inappropriate for a faculty-student relationship," Kinsey said.

To prevent this type of situation from occurring elsewhere, officials at some suburban school districts have enacted policies limiting how staffers communicate electronically with students.

The rules typically say employees should only use official school email addresses to communicate with students and forbid using personal email accounts, playing online games with students and friending students on social media websites, among other restrictions.

A task force of Stevenson High School staffers began developing a texting and technology policy last year, spokesman Jim Conrey said, but it has not yet been adopted. It's planned for the 2012-13 term.

"Obviously, this has been a disappointing situation," Conrey said. "But what matters most is ensuring that something like this never happens again."

Weil joined the Stevenson staff as a teacher in 1999 and became a dean of students in 2008. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Weil's messages came to police attention April 10 after a Stevenson staff member told administrators she had heard Weil was sending inappropriate texts to a student, according to the police report.

The police officer stationed at Stevenson learned school administrators had met with Weil the day before, and that he had admitted sending messages to the teen from his personal cellphone, the report states.

Weil said most of the messages were of a "mentoring kind" and felt "99 percent" were benign and related to school, the report shows.

Weil was promptly placed on administrative leave with pay during the investigation. He never returned to school and resigned last week.

In the ensuing investigation, which concluded this week, police learned the messages started in September 2011.

Initially concerning the teen's intent to ask his girlfriend to homecoming, the messages became more personal as Weil asked about his weekend activities, home life and other subjects, according to the police report.

The teen said he believed Weil was simply being friendly, but he acknowledged some of the messages made him feel "uncomfortable." He described some as "weird" and "awkward and creepy," the report states.

Among those messages was one in which Weil offered to buy the teen dinner. In another, after the young man sent Weil a text message saying he was planning to take probiotic supplements, the dean texted back, "Sounds hot."

The teen admitted he told other students he wanted Weil to stop sending him messages, but he never asked Weil to stop, the report states.

When police eventually interviewed Weil, he described the messages as "friendly banter," according to the report. But Weil also acknowledged some of the messages could be considered "questionable."

During the interview, Weil admitted he deleted messages with the teen around the time Stevenson officials were involved in a high-profile investigation into student drug activity that focused on teens' text messages, the report states.

It was then Weil realized he should not be texting with a student, according to police.

Police sent the report and copies of the texts to the Lake County state's attorney's office for review. The office asked the teen for permission to search the data on his phone, the report says, but he declined.

After that, prosecutors advised police to close the case, which they did.

The Illinois Association of School Boards, which advises local boards on policy matters, recommends the adoption of e-communication rules.

News stories about the Stevenson High case and others like it are proof rules are needed, said Melinda Selbee, the group's general counsel.

"It continues to be a huge concern," Selbee said.

Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 officials may have been the first in the area to forge a social media policy for employees.

Adopted in March 2010, the strict and specific rules warn against using text messaging to communicate with students and forbid staffers from playing online games with teens or using their personal email accounts to talk with students.

"A good question that staff members should ask themselves before posting or emailing a message is, 'Would I mind it (if) that information appeared on the front page of the local newspaper?'" the policy reads. "If the answer is 'yes,' then do not post it."

The policy "raised the awareness of everyone" to potential communication-related problems, District 128 spokeswoman Mary Todoric said.

Officials with Mundelein High School District 120, Lake Zurich Unit District 95, Barrington Unit School District 220 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 have enacted e-communication rules, too.

Disciplinary options in the various policies range from a ban on possession of personal technology at school to dismissal.

If a lesson can be learned from the situation at Stevenson, Kinsey said, it's that people in positions of authority need to be careful of their conversations.

"It's a whole different world these days, especially with all these communication devices," Kinsey said. "In the work setting or the school setting, you have to keep communication on the professional level."

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