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updated: 2/9/2013 6:40 PM

DCFS places Maine West educators on child abuse, neglect registry

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By Kerry Lester
klester@dailyherald.com

The Department of Children and Family Services has validated several claims of abuse and neglect filed against two Maine West educators following allegations of hazing in the school's sports program and put their names on a state list of child abusers which is accessible to employers.

The department's investigation of what spokesman Dave Clarkin describes as "two certified school staff" members at Maine West concluded Jan. 30. State Superintendent of Education Chris Koch now could move to revoke their teaching licenses.

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"When there is an allegation indicated (substantiated) involving school personnel, we do provide notice of that to the school superintendent, the regional superintendent, and the Illinois state superintendent," Clarkin said Saturday. "The state superintendent may decide to suspend or revoke their teaching certificate."

Clarkin said three allegations of abuse and seven allegations of neglect were "indicated" or found to be valid by the department against one "perpetrator," and four allegations of neglect were indicated against the second perpetrator.

One perpetrator is facing both abuse and neglect allegations. The other is solely facing allegations of neglect, Clarkin said.

Substantiated allegations of abuse will put the first perpetrator on the State Central Register list for 50 years, the maximum amount of time possible, and ordered only by a child's death or the infliction or allowance of sexual penetration of a child. Substantiated allegations of neglect will place the second on the list for five years. Clarkin said they each have 60 days to file an appeal for an administrative review.

Maine Township High School District 207 has fired soccer coaches Mike Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, citing the hazing in the school's soccer program. They are appealing the firings.

Sally Daly, spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, said the DCFS findings "will be considered as part of the information" considered in its own investigation, which is ongoing.

"But as far as triggering us to do something differently, at this point, no," Daly said. "We're continuing to review the matter."

District 207 spokesman Dave Beery declined to comment on the DCFS findings, noting only that officials have been aware of the DCFS investigation since the district first notified the department on Oct. 2, four days after receiving initial allegations against the coaches.

Two 14-year-old freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team claim they were sodomized in a hazing ritual inside the school on Sept. 26, according to Des Plaines police. Five juveniles were charged with misdemeanor battery related to those allegations, while a sixth was charged after police uncovered evidence of another attack they say occurred during a summer soccer camp.

Alvarez's office is reviewing the charges and has issued subpoenas to District 207 to turn over documents.

Meanwhile, four current and former students are suing the school district, Maine West, the school's principal, Audrey Haugan, and Divincenzo and Rodriguez, claiming the practice of hazing has been going on in the school's soccer and baseball programs since as far back as 2007.

The Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus did not immediately return a message seeking comment about whether Koch would seek to revoke Divincenzo and Rodriguez's licenses.

DCFS's role in school cases ends after the conclusion of an investigation, aside from making referrals to support services for victims, Clarkin said.

In the months since the hazing story first broke, Clarkin said DCFS has seen "greater and better reporting by school districts in the Chicago suburbs."

As a result, officials are mulling how to better educate the public about recognizing and reporting child abuse.

Clarkin said he has placed a call to Erin Merryn, the 27-year-old Schaumburg resident who spurred a state law mandating sexual abuse awareness programs be taught in Illinois schools.

"I'm going to be talking to her," Clarkin said. "I want to get her advice among other things to see what we can do."

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