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Charges of sexual assault have been dropped against a 14-year-old Evanston Township High School student who was arrested last month after an incident at the high school.

The case was referred to the juvenile division of the State’s Attorney’s office, Chief Richard Eddington said. He said both students now have individual education plans (IEPs) and are receiving mandatory counseling through the juvenile division.

Yet school and police officials appear to remain somewhat at odds about how the community was notified about the incident.

At a meeting on May 17, ETHS officials said they felt the police department had been premature in sending out a press release that an assault had occurred. District 202 Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon said he felt things would have been better if the school had disseminated the information. He said that the media had blown the story out of proportion: “By the time I got home that night, the story was that a person was raped at knifepoint. … My wife said she had heard that it was a gun – whereas it was a very different situation: A boy and a girl sought out a stairwell. We’re talking about minors: The boy is 14, and the girl is 15. … The kid could be called a sex offender for the rest of his life.”

With texting and other social media, Dr. Witherspoon said, “Every kid in the school knows who was involved, but they don’t know what happened.”

Dr. Witherspoon said he wanted the school to be forthcoming, “but we’re talking about children. We have to be careful.”

Shortly after the incident on April 16, the police department issued a statement that the 14-year-old boy had been charged with one count of sexual assault. “Even though we saw the press release, we could not change it,” Dr. Eric Witherspoon said.

The high school later released a statement saying that the boy and the girl had been seen together beforehand. Dr. Witherspoon said the intent of that statement was to assure parents that there was not a random rapist at the high school. That statement, however, evoked some public response that the school was “blaming the victim.”

Dr. Witherspoon said both students were reluctant to return to the high school and that this placement “is better for the kids.”

At the May 17 meeting, Police Chief Richard Eddington acknowledged that the police’s statement about the arrest and the charge attracted a lot of media attention. An allegation of criminal sexual assault “draws more [media] interest” than do other charges. He also said that the allegations of criminal sexual assault was “what we were hearing from the parents [and] parents are the drivers [of the matter].”

Dr. Witherspoon asked whether the police department could hold off on issuing a statement in certain situations.

“We strive to be extremely transparent in our operations,” Chief Eddington said. “If we elect not to do that, there are going to be ramifications. … Please understand that if we don’t say anything, that may not solve the problem – there could be accusations of a cover-up.”

Although the problem of notification of the public did not appear to be resolved at the May 17 meeting, Dr. Witherspoon seemed to approve of the placement of the two students. “Neither is at ETHS any more, and they have been placed in better educational settings,” said Dr.
Witherspoon.