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On Oct. 23, Phil Ehrhardt and Heidi Wennstrom, School District 65’s Interim Superintendents, posted a statement concerning an incident at Haven Middle School on the District’s website. The statement said they received a report on Oct. 7 that a staff member engaged in “inappropriate conduct toward a student” during school hours on Friday, Oct. 4. They said that Haven Principal Kathy Roberson had communicated with Haven parents about the incident.
“We were shocked and deeply distressed to learn this,” said Dr. Ehrhardt and Wennstrom. “Our immediate concern was and continues to be to support this student in every way possible and do all we can to make sure all of our students and staff are safe. The District also immediately notified both the Evanston Police Department and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), who both initiated investigations. The staff member(s) who may have been involved in this serious incident were immediately placed on leave and have not returned to the school pending the outcome of the police investigation.”
On Oct. 23, an attorney representing the student and their family hand delivered a letter to the District and other people in the community, stating that the student was “sexually assaulted on school grounds” by an employee of the District, said Dr. Ehrhardt and Dr. Wennstrom. They said they had not previously shared the details of the incident to protect the privacy of the student and the integrity of the ongoing criminal investigation.
Commander Ryan Glew of the Evanston Police Department told the RoundTable that the incident was reported to police on Oct. 7. He said an investigation was pending, but could not disclose details of the investigation because a juvenile was involved. No one has been charged at this time.
“The District has and will continue to cooperate with the Police and DCFS in their ongoing investigations of this matter,” said Dr. Ehrhardt and Dr. Wennstrom. “Law enforcement authorities and the District will take necessary and appropriate actions against anyone found to be responsible at the conclusion of those investigations.
“The safety and security of our students, staff, and schools is and always will be of the highest priority. We conduct fingerprint-based criminal background checks and cross-reference against state and national sexual and violent offender registries as a part of our pre-employment process. We maintain active video monitoring systems in all District 65 schools and we are looking at any other best practices to strengthen the safety in our schools at all times.”
Transforming the Role of School Resource Officers
On Oct. 7, the Policy Committee of the District 65 School Board discussed proposed changes to the role of School Resource Officers (SROs) in the schools.
Historically, the Evanston Police Department assigned two SROs to School District 65. The SROs visited the schools during the day on a regular basis and provided support to teachers and administrators. The use of SROs came under attack at an April 9, 2019 Board meeting, after an SRO was called to assist with a 6-year-old black male.
Last spring, members of the School Board asked administrators to phase out the use of SROs in the schools. To follow through on that request, Dr. Ehrhardt said on Oct. 7 that administrators had met with Police Chief Demitrous Cook and had followed up that meeting with five or six other meetings with the EPD to discuss changing the role of SROs and taking steps to ensure student safety in the schools in emergency situations. A memo presented to members of the School Board summarized how the District plans to modify the intergovernmental agreement between District 65 and EPD and to transform the role of SROs in the schools.
Board President Suni Kartha made clear that the new procedures represented an important shift in policy. “We are not going to have police officers regularly in our school buildings,” she said.