DCFS: Prosecutors should determine if District 207 violated state law

Agency says state's attorney's office must decide if district broke law

It will be up to the Cook County state's attorney's office to decide whether to prosecute Maine Township High School District 207 officials on charges involving failure to report allegations of abuse during hazing that occurred in the school's athletic program.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said it has referred allegations to Cook County prosecutors that one or more school district employees knew of “alleged abuse or neglect as early as 2007” of students and didn't report them to the agency as required by law.

DCFS said in a statement that prosecutors need to determine if the law was violated and whether to file charges. A spokesman for the state's attorney's office said prosecutors have not had a chance to review the DCFS report.

District 207 spokesman Dave Beery said officials have not yet spoken to DCFS officials about the statement released Monday and declined to comment on it.

“We will continue to fully cooperate with any official external investigation, as well as continue our own investigation,” he said.

The state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act requires all school personnel, including administrative, certified and noncertified school employees as well as school board members, to immediately report or cause a report to be made to DCFS whenever they have “reasonable cause to believe a child known to them in their professional or official capacity may be an abused child or a neglected child,” according to the statement.

Knowing and willful violation of reporting requirements is “a Class A misdemeanor for a first violation and a Class 4 felony for a second or subsequent violation. If a person tried to prevent authorities from discovering abuse or neglect of a child as part of a plan or scheme to protect someone from arrest or prosecution, that person would be charged with a Class 4 felony for a first offense and a Class 3 felony for a second or subsequent offense,” according to the statement.

“The safety and well-being of Illinois children relies heavily on Illinois' ‘mandated reporters,' who account for roughly two-thirds of the more than 250,000 calls to our Child Abuse Hotline each year,” DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow said in the statement.

School board President Sean Sullivan read a statement at Monday night's board meeting reiterating the district took prompt and appropriate action once it learned of allegations of hazing of freshman players by members of the varsity boys soccer team in September, which Des Plaines Police and DCFS were notified of immediately.

“We are absolutely committed to eliminating the practices and traditions that might lead to such hazing incidents,” he said. “This commitment is essential to ensure the civility and mutual respect that is vital to a quality education and a positive learning environment for all students.”

As for allegations of prior hazing, the district has said that they were handled internally at the school level.

Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan was at Monday's meeting, but neither she nor other board members addressed the scandal. No one from the public commented on the matter.

DCFS, Des Plaines police and District 207 officials have been independently investigating allegations that two freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team were assaulted as part of a hazing ritual Sept. 26. Earlier cases of hazing from 2007, 2008 and last summer were discovered afterward.

Maine West High School soccer coaches Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez have been removed from coaching responsibilities and banned from school premises as a result, and three other coaches have been reassigned with pay.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed by the families of four victims who claim they were sexually assaulted as part of the hazing by older members of the baseball and soccer teams, while the coaches are accused of sanctioning the culture of hazing at the school.

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Maine West High School is located at 1755 S. Wolf Road in Des Plaines. COURTESY OF ABC 7
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