The state has referred allegations to the Cook County State's Attorney that Maine Township High School District 207 officials knew about hazing and bullying incidents, but failed to report them. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services stated on Monday it referred to the state’s attorney to determine whether Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act was violated.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of four Maine West families accuses D-207 administrators, faculty, coaches and staff of allowing multiple instances of bullying and hazing to occur, and failing to report some of the cases immediately to DCFS.
Antonio Romanucci, an attorney representing the Maine West families, presented an enlarged copy of a , and requesting a transfer for the student to Maine East High School, at a press conference on Nov. 28.
Transferring a student was a district issue, Romanucci said at the press conference.
“If he was given a transfer, the school district is now telling you that they didn’t know about it? Not true,” Romanucci said.
Or, someone at the school level withheld information or misled the district, Romanucci added.
In a public statement and letter sent to D-207 parents on Nov. 30, Sean Sullivan, board of education president, stated in addition to the school district’s investigation into the reports of bullying and hazing, an independent investigator would be contracted to “scrutinize every aspect of this matter, including but not limited to, policies, procedures, training and follow-up.”
A summary and recommendation of the independent investigator would be presented to the board of education, Sullivan stated.
“We would like to also note, implications that current top-level District 207 Administrators knew about a 2008 hazing incident before November of this year and did not act, are simply not true,” Sullivan stated.
In statements issued by D-207 on Nov. 26 and Nov. 28, it stated the school district first learned of the 2008 bullying and hazing report on Nov. 16, at which time it notified DCFS.
The allegations of violating the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act is separate from investigations into allegations into the bullying and hazing incidents themselves.
Des Plaines police petitioned six juveniles to juvenile court and completed its investigation. DCFS has not confirmed its investigation into the hazing reports was complete, and D-207’s internal investigation into the matters is ongoing.
David Beery, D-207 spokesperson, said both the allegations surrounding the reporting of bullying and hazing incidents and the allegations of the bullying and hazing acts themselves were part of D-207’s internal review.
“We have folded all of that into our ongoing investigation,” Beery said. “All I can say right now is that whole sequence of events in 2008 is part of our ongoing investigation.”
The complaint filed with the courts by the four Maine West families lists six changes to policies and procedures of D-207 and Maine West including that the school district be required to implement mandatory training programs related to hazing and bullying for faculty, staff, coaches and students, and the school district to be required to adopt policies with guidelines for teachers, coaches, staff and district employees about how to address hazing, bullying and violence.
Romanucci said an increase in awareness about bullying and hazing was caused, in part, by the lawsuit filed by the Maine West families, and changes regarding D-207’s policies and procedures outlined in the complaint were occurring as a result.
“They’re already happening, and because of all the awareness, the reporting that’s been going on, and to a certain extent, even this lawsuit, we’re already protecting children,” Romanucci said. “This is a good thing that’s happening to raise this level of awareness, not only for Maine West or Hoffman Estates, but citywide, statewide and nationwide.”
D-207 began distributing new anti-hazing agreements to faculty and students participating in athletics, student clubs, organizations and activities last week. Wallace said the intent was to ask faculty and students, and their parents, currently participating in activities at Maine West, Maine South and Maine East to sign the agreements. The majority would be complete by the end of the week Wallace said, and each season another agreement would be distributed.
“This is a good thing to use, and it makes sense to use,” Wallace said.
So we decided to customize it so it could be used for any sport, club or activity
Wallace said D-207 already did a number of things to make sure bullying and hazing incidents do not occur.
“But you can never do too much, and I think [the anti-hazing agreement] is just a way for us to sort of keep it at the forefront,” Wallace said.
In his statement on Nov. 30, Sullivan stated, in part:
“We already have multiple programs in place throughout each building to address bullying and hazing, including long-standing peer-led character development programs, the centerpiece of which is teaching respect and responsibility. Moving forward, the District's action plan developed as a result of the Maine West alleged hazing incidents include the following:
- Requiring all students and coaches to sign an anti-hazing pledge issued by the Illinois High School Association as a part of their participation in sports, clubs, or activities.
- Convening Focus Groups with administrators, staff, students and parents in each building to study policy, practice, climate, and culture as it relates to bullying and hazing and to prepare recommendations for further plan implementations.
- Implementing additional annual staff training to the already required training to stress the importance of and ensure that all staff are aware of mandated reporting duties.
- Using the “Positive Coaching Alliance” in each building to educate students, parents, and staff about the importance of positive coaching techniques.
- Launching a District hotline feature that will allow students to report and find adult help on a variety of issues, including bullying and hazing.”
Romanucci said, DCFS, in its statement Monday, correctly outlined the responsibilities of educators.
“And as we know in this case the educators are coaches and principals all the way up to superintendents and school board members, and we’ve produced evidence that the principal knew of the abuse in 2008 and failed to report it,” Romanucci said. “Now, whether or not that arises to criminal level, we’ll leave that up to the state’s attorney to decide.”
At a D-207 board meeting on Monday, Sullivan said, “ in September of this year. Implications that current executive-level district administrators knew about a 2008 hazing incident before November of this year and did not act, are not supported by the facts.”
Mike Poehler, president of Maine Teachers Association, stated in a press release, “This entire matter has been devastating to students, teachers, parents, our school district and community.”
Poehler stated the teachers union hoped that the matter was investigated thoroughly and fairly, and that whatever outcomes would support an even more secure and safe environment for students and the school community.
Romanucci said, “Everyone knew that this was wrong in 2007, and it’s wrong today, and we need to be able to stop and prevent it.”