Lawsuit against Oak Brook schools over geography bee headed to trial

Attorneys for an Oak Brook family and a now 11-year-old boy who was accused of planning to cheat during the 2016 National Geographic Bee regional competition at Brook Forest Elementary School say a judge's recent ruling puts the case on track for a fall trial.

The most recent amended complaint includes two constitutional and one state count related to the Butler Elementary District 53 administration's alleged unlawful seizure in its handling of the 9-year-old student. The broader statewide claim relates to alleged willful and wanton conduct by the district and district employees.

According to court documents, Superintendent Heidi Wennstrom accused the boy's mother, identified only as S. Jain, in writing on Feb. 8, 2016, of obtaining access to the National Geographic Bee contest questions by accessing them through a shared joint email and password with another family.

Wennstrom also said her investigation concluded that Jain falsely registered as a home-school provider with WordMasters Challenge to obtain test questions in advance of the contest.

Jain denies having access to GeoBee questions or information. She also says her registration with WordMasters Challenge as a home-school provider was a mistake because she didn't realize she could have registered as an individual.

Jain's attorney, Craig Sandberg, said he anticipates the case will go to trial this fall.

"We're marching ahead toward what will likely be a trial unless the district resolves the case," Sandberg said. "My clients certainly look forward to the opportunity to clear their names, as well as demonstrate what we contend is the maliciousness that accompanied the acts of the defendant."

The illegal seizure count, according to the suit, relates to the boy being pulled from class by three administrators and aggressively questioned for 90 minutes about academic dishonesty that administrators said was initiated by his mother. The suit alleges those administrators intimidated and belittled the student and told him he could not cry.

The willful and wanton count alleges the district failed to properly investigate the allegations of academic dishonesty, disclosed its "unfounded allegations and unwarranted punishment" to district families and staff and employed its law firm to conduct an "inherently biased and flawed investigation."

School board President Elizabeth Chun previously said the district would not comment on continuing litigation.

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