New Naperville Unit District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges said Tuesday he's received an overwhelming amount of support from the community, during his first public comments since revelations surfaced that Bridges and other West Aurora District 129 officials may have failed to report a possible sex abuse case immediately.
"Since I came here last year as an assistant superintendent, the welcome from the community -- parents, business owners, elected officials, people in this community -- it's just been phenomenal," Bridges said during a public meet-and-greet reception at the District 203 administrative building. "I've felt welcome and part of this community and this school district since day one."
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Bridges didn't directly address the controversy that erupted last week when officials with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took him to task for not calling the department's hotline in 2010 to report an abuse allegation involving then-West Aurora band director Steve Orland and a female student.
School custodian Leon Smith told Bridges, then the school's principal, that he heard giggling coming from a small band room, and when approached, he saw Orland "up close" to the girl. Orland then "took off running," according to notes from an interview Bridges conducted with Smith.
Bridges informed West Aurora Superintendent James Rydland, who on advice of counsel did not contact authorities.
DCFS officials said officials at West Aurora should have called the department's hotline -- even before doing their own investigation.
The alleged encounter took place about 10 months before Orland pleaded guilty to abusing two other high school girls. He was sentenced in March to 12 years in prison.
In an interview, Bridges said he would cooperate with any investigation into the allegations, but otherwise, declined to comment on the matter.
"Our focus is on the work in District 203," Bridges said.
The case has since been turned over to the Kane County state's attorney's office.
Naperville school board President Mike Jaensch said Tuesday during the meet-and-greet reception, attended by some 100 school district and city officials, parents and community members, that the board "is unanimous in our excitement of having Dan Bridges as our superintendent."
Jaensch said in an interview that Bridges informed board members of the West Aurora case last month before getting word that Smith, the janitor, was going to a TV station to talk about the abuse allegation.
"We looked at what (Bridges') actions were," Jaensch said. "He shared with us that he did everything he could ... The board is fully behind him."
Bridges was hired as assistant superintendent for secondary education last year, and he became interim superintendent after former Superintendent Mark Mitrovich stepped down June 30.
The school board began a preliminary search for a permanent successor, but called it off last month when they decided on Bridges.
"When we reached out to people wired in -- we talked to search firms -- we realized the (candidate) pool wasn't that deep," Jaensch said. "Then we saw Dan in action. People respected and accepted him in the position."