Naperville Unit District 203's new superintendent and others are drawing fire from state officials for how they handled allegations of sexual abuse of a student in his previous district.
Dan Bridges was principal of West Aurora High School in 2010 when a custodian reported an encounter between band director Steve Orland and a female student. Orland has since been convicted of sexually assaulting two other female students.
Contact information ( * required )
Officials with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services are taking to task Bridges and other officials in West Aurora District 129 for not reporting the allegations immediately.
"Schools can sometimes make the mistake of thinking that they have the option to do their own internal evaluation of the seriousness and credibility of allegations," DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said. "They do not have that option. They have the legal duty to call the hotline so professional child protection investigators can do the job they are trained to do."
But District 203 school board President Mike Jaensch said Tuesday that Bridges, who was named Naperville's superintendent earlier this month, has his full support.
"My understanding is he did his job to the best of his ability by running the investigation and reporting to his superintendent," Jaensch said. "I'm actually very pleased with how Dan handled the entire situation."
The alleged encounter took place in a band storage room about 10 months before Orland pleaded guilty to abusing two other high school girls. Orland was sentenced in March to 12 years in prison.
Bridges, who was then principal at West Aurora High School, took handwritten notes during an interview with custodian Leon Smith that indicate the janitor said he heard giggling coming from a small band room. When he approached, he saw Orland "up close" to a girl and then Orland "took off running."
According to the notes, which were provided to the Aurora Beacon News by the school district, Smith said the girl's back was to the wall and Orland had his "hands on her."
Those statements alone, DCFS officials said, should have been enough to warrant a call the state hotline.
Based on his notes provided to the Beacon News, Bridges conducted a second interview with Smith the following day. At that time, Bridges said he specifically asked about any physical contact and Smith said he "did not see touching" but that Orland and the girl were "very close" and the "girl was giggling."
Bridges forwarded his finding to West Aurora Superintendent James Rydland, who on advice of counsel did not contact authorities.
West Aurora spokesman Mike Chapin said he could not discuss the matter because the case has been referred to the Kane County state's attorney office. Instead Chapin referred to a statement posted on the district's website.
He did not respond to a subsequent request for Bridges' notes.
State's attorney's officials would not confirm they have launched an investigation, but Marlowe said standard procedure is for DCFS to turn "nonreporting" cases over to local prosecutors.
"After consulting with counsel, no report was made to DCFS about the 2010 matter because the facts reported would not support an allegation of abuse or neglect," the school district's statement reads. "Teachers are alone with students on numerous occasions. The only information the district had at the time was that Mr. Orland was alone in a room with a student, in a place in the building that was frequented by both students and staff, and that no physical contact, inappropriate or otherwise, occurred."
Marlowe said the custodian, as a school employee, is also a "mandated reporter" and should have called the hotline at the same time he notified his supervisor.
"All school employees are mandated reporters and have a responsibility to report anything they think is suspicious," Marlowe said. "There is nothing wrong with talking to your supervisor unless that discussion delays your telephone call to us."
Several months later Orland was accused of having sex with two of his female students from October 2010 through April 2011 in the band room, band storage room and his car after a December 2010 band concert.
Last spring, Orland was charged with 27 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse and battery, and faced up to 45 years in prison. But the remaining charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty in March to two counts of criminal sexual abuse.
District 203 spokeswoman Susan Rice said Bridges is prohibited from discussing the case and is "cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation."