In the wake of recent developments at our local high school district, it's become increasingly challenging to determine how committed the D115 administration and school board are to maintaining a safe and sexual misconduct-free environment.
Recently, the Board of Education and Administration directed its trial lawyers to plead in Federal Court that the District had "no duty to protect a student who was allegedly sexually abused by a teacher."
Thankfully, the court rejected this argument.
A Cultural Problem
As one student reporter wisely pointed out in a 2021 article for Lake Forest Scout, some people believe the issue of sexual misconduct at Lake Forest High School runs deeper than an isolated incident; that it's a culture.
Indeed, the unsettling case of David Miller - accused of grooming and sexually abusing multiple students for decades- is far from the only example of teacher misconduct at our high school (that we know about):
Given this unsettling history, one would expect the current administration and board to be hyper-vigilant in safeguarding our students. However, doubts persist.
The "Miller Report"
In 2020, thanks to a victim-advocate of the Dave Miller sexual abuse allegations, the board commissioned a forensic investigator, Rebecca Veidlinger, to assess the District's prevention of sexual abuse and response to allegations of sexual misconduct.
The resulting report made several recommendations to prevent staff sexual misconduct and improve response to reports.
Recommendation #12 specifically addressed maintaining appropriate locations for employee-student interactions (Report Pg 50).
A Room that Violates the "Miller Report" Recommendations
Despite the recommendations made in the "Miller Report," earlier this year, a student whistleblower unveiled the existence of a closed-off room in the high school basement, where teachers and counseling staff could meet behind closed doors with windows blocked by flags or paper.
Lake County Gazette's Video of the Whistleblower Recording
Video Courtesy of Lake County Gazette
No impropriety has been publicly alleged in this room, and we understand the District removed the window coverings after the revelation. Yet its very existence for so long raises severe concerns about the District's commitment to student safety. Particularly since the room so clearly contradicted the District's commissioned report recommendations.
All students, particularly students seeking counseling, deserve to attend school in an environment that meets the safety guidelines established by the District commissioned expert.
Furthermore, a dark room with rainbow lights violates an expected degree of clinical professionalism in rooms purported to be for staff to discuss intimate personal matters with students.
A Retaliatory Response
Principal Erin Lenart's response to concerns about the closed-off room also raised eyebrows.
Characterizing those who raised concerns as "intolerant" and condemning allegations as a "rumor mill" was an inadequate response and arguably an attempt to silence valid safety concerns.
Even more concerning was the reported intimidation of the student whistleblower, who was summoned to the office without their parents present and questioned about their motives.
Some students reported to us facing negative comments from some of their teachers as well.
This response from Principal Lenart is hard to reconcile with Melissa Oakley's recent assurances to the community that concerns would be taken seriously and whistleblowers would be protected.
The Bottom Line
As a community, we are left with the daunting task of gauging how committed the district is to creating a culture free from sexual misconduct.
While we acknowledge the carefully crafted words of the Director of Communications, we must scrutinize District leadership actions in both the courtroom and the school building.
Only through transparency, accountability, and a genuine commitment to student safety can we restore trust in our local high school district leadership.
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