West Aurora Dist. 129 settles sex abuse lawsuit
A secret settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by a former West Aurora High School student who was sexually abused by a former band director, according to court records.
The girl, identified only as Jane Doe, sued West Aurora School District 129, Superintendent Jim Ryland and former West Aurora principal Dan Bridges for failing to protect her and reporting suspected abuse from then band director Steve Orland to state authorities.
Orland, formerly of North Aurora, was charged in spring 2011 with sexually abusing two of his female students. Prosecutors said he had sex with two girls in the band room, storage room and in his car between October 2010 and April 2011, also grooming them with cards and sending some 47,000 text messages.
Orland eventually pleaded guilty in March 2012, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
A lawsuit was filed against the district, Rydland, Orland and Bridges, who is now Naperville School District 203 superintendent, in September 2012.
Kane County Judge Keith Brown dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice on Monday, meaning it cannot be refiled, and ordered the settlement sealed, records show.
The matter was last in court Jan. 17 when Brown ordered Orland dropped as a defendant in the case, but no follow-up court date was set, records show. The sides had been in mediation before then, court records show.
Messages left for the girl's attorney, Craig Brown, were not returned Tuesday.
A messages left for Steve Puiszis, who is Bridges' attorney, and Nicholas Kourvetaris, who is Rydland's attorney, were not returned. Mike Chapin, the district's spokesman, had no comment.
"All I can say is the matter is resolved," said District 129 attorney Melissa Mitchell, declining to answer whether the district made a monetary payment in the settlement.
Saying "education, not prosecution" was key, Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon last year entered into a five-year deferred prosecution agreement with District 129. In the agreement, District 129 agreed to provide training for all current and new district staff on mandated reporting duties under the Abused and Neglected Children Reporting Act in exchange for McMahon's office not prosecuting some 10 people for violating the act.
"They're the ones who should be responsible for training employees and they didn't do it," Brown said at the time. "Had mistakes not been made, my client wouldn't be in counseling right now."
A janitor in summer 2010 found Orland and a girl in a band closet, but told his supervisor instead of reporting it to the state. Rydland and Bridges also failed to report suspected abuse to the state, according to the lawsuit.
McMahon on Tuesday said he hoped the agreement would help District 129 and other districts learn more about mandated reporting duties and, therefore, keep students safer.
"What we achieved in that case, I'm hopeful that will have a long-term benefit," he said.
McMahon also noted that a new state law takes effect July 1 that basically "caught up" with his office's agreement with District 129. The new law requires school personnel to receive training within one year of being hired and once every five years going forward.
Anyone who suspects child abuse should call the Department of Children and Family Services hotline at (800) 252-2873 or (800) 25-ABUSE. For more information and tips on how to spot abuse, visit DCFS.illinois.gov.