Kane judge to rule if former Aurora principal violated DCFS reporting law
Was it duty or discretion?
A Kane County judge will decide Dec. 10 whether a former Aurora elementary school principal violated the state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act in spring 2018 when he failed to notify state officials after a parent said his stepson had been "inappropriately" touched by a school social worker.
Judge Michael Noland presided Monday over a bench trial for Matt Willigman, 42, of Geneva, who was fired from O'Donnell Elementary School and faces probation to up to a year in jail if convicted.
Willigman's defense attorney argued the report was not credible and the principal was exercising his discretion.
Willigman was one of two Aurora educators charged in separate cases in 2018. Elizabeth Aguilar, 34, of Aurora, a former first-grade bilingual teacher at Bardwell Elementary School, was found guilty in September of violating the act and sentenced this month to 18 months of court supervision and 150 hours of community service.
Both Willigman and Aguilar were designated by the act as mandated reporters required to immediately report suspected child abuse and neglect to the Department of Children and Family Services.
During Willigman's trial, prosecutors argued that he became aware of the alleged abuse at a spring 2018 meeting in which the 9-year-old student's stepfather told him the social worker inappropriately touched the boy.
According to testimony, Willigman leaned back in his chair, folded his hands behind his head and was dismissive. "He laughed and smiled," the stepfather testified.
In May 2018, someone called DCFS and triggered an investigation. Prosecutors said it would be a violation of the act to disclose who made the complaint, but during the trial they repeatedly said it was not Willigman.
In an audio recording of a June 11, 2018, meeting between Willigman and an Aurora police investigator, Willigman said he assumed DCFS had been notified. He recalled the spring meeting with the stepfather, noted he tried to get more information from the boy, and met with the social worker, who said he only saw the child in group settings.
"I didn't (call DCFS) at the time because I didn't have anything to go on and I didn't want to start throwing the guy's name around," Willigman told police.
Assistant State's Attorney Sarah Seberger said in her closing argument that Willigman's actions were exactly what lawmakers were trying to prevent when they passed the act.
"From a public policy standpoint, teachers should not be investigating a co-worker. It's DCFS's job so the person doing the investigating isn't biased," she said.
Defense attorney Kelley Flinn argued that Willigman was required to notify DCFS only if there was a "credible report." She noted the boy's parents would randomly "drop in" to Willigman's office with a litany of complaints and that the stepfather couldn't even specify in his testimony when he learned of the allegations and the date he told Willigman.
"He couldn't remember what he said to the DCFS worker and he couldn't remember what he said at the (Kane County) Child Advocacy Center," Flinn argued. "That is not credible."
District 131 spokesman Tom Jackson said Tuesday that the district placed the social worker on administrative leave in 2018 while DCFS conducted its investigation.
DCFS concluded the report was "unfounded" and the social worker is back working at O'Donnell Elementary, Jackson said. The Daily Herald is not naming the worker because he was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing.