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Content warning: This story includes details of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching of minors.
Documents and emails newly acquired by the RoundTable reveal Evanston Township High School students’ specific allegations of inappropriate touching and comments by Color Guard Coach Lorenzo Medrano last March, as well as the process in which school officials cleared him of the accusations.
That clearance, which allowed Medrano to return to work, came just five months before the 61-year-old coach was charged with child seduction in LaPorte, Indiana.
ETHS cleared Medrano of the charges and allowed him to continue coaching after officials spoke to Medrano and two assistant color guard coaches, according to the documents obtained by the RoundTable through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Medrano was later arrested this past September on charges of child seduction in LaPorte, where he also worked as a part-time coach of the color guard team at LaPorte High School. He posted bail and is scheduled to appear in court again this month.
According to incident reports filed with the dean’s office and ETHS human resources in the spring of 2021, Medrano’s behavior reflected a pattern of verbal harassment and inappropriate physical touching of female students on the color guard team. Those incident reports include the following claims:
- “[Redacted] was a member of Color Guard and reported the following incidents regarding her coach, Lorenzo Medrano. She stated that there were multiple unprofessional and inappropriate incidents that occurred. The coach would touch members on the team. He would dig his hands into students’ hips, without warning, to move and position them during practices for upcoming performances. Lorenzo would say that this is normal.”
- “Lorenzo made comments about the bodies of girls on the team. He would measure the sizes of the students on the team.”
- “Lorenzo would show the Color Guard videos of performances from other dance groups from Canada that were of college age that he had previously coached. He would comment how hot the Canadian females in the video were and which girls he had dated and was with. Mr. Medrano would have the team change their costumes behind props where they were practicing and not in the bathroom. He may have been able to see their bodies.”
- “He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Members on the team were scared to say no to him. He would make individuals feel bad that they are letting the team down. He didn’t care about the person’s feelings, situations or mental health.”
- “[Redacted] reported to (Social Worker Megan) Goodell and (Dean William) Shanahan that her Color Guard Coach Lorenzo Medrano has behaved in an awkward and inappropriate manner. She stated that Mr. Medrano would offer kids on the Color Guard team rides home after practice. During practices, he would place his hands on the dancer to move and/or position them without letting them know that he would be placing his hands on them.”
- “During performances, the girls would be in a classroom where they would be getting ready and changing and Lorenzo would walk in unannounced. He would tell the girls, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve seen it all before.’ He would play music and tell the team that he wanted them to feel sexy while dancing.”
On March 25, 2021, Fine Arts Department Chair Nicholas Gehl sent an email to Assistant Chief Human Resources Officer Yolanda Hardy saying he had not witnessed the reported behavior by Medrano. A day later, Hardy replied that Medrano could not have any student contact until the Human Resources (HR) department could complete an investigation into the allegations against him.
According to an HR memo obtained by the RoundTable, Hardy and Chief Human Resources Officer Toya Campbell met with Medrano over Zoom on March 30, and Medrano “insisted the accusations were false and he did not understand why they were being made.” He also claimed that he was never alone with female students because two assistant coaches, Hannah Vice and Jean Vice, were always present at practices, as well.
Over a week later, on April 9, Hardy and Campbell spoke to Hannah and Jean Vice about Medrano’s conduct, and Hannah said she was the primary coach in charge of positioning the girls on the team with her hands. The two assistants also claimed that Medrano was never present in areas where the team would change prior to competitions.
At that point, on the same day Campbell and Hardy spoke to Hannah and Jean Vice, the HR department “followed up with LM on a phone conversation and told him the investigation was concluded and the claims were not found and he could resume coaching.”
In an email to the RoundTable, Campbell said that when students report incidents involving teachers, the dean’s office interviews the relevant students and witnesses, while the HR office conducts interviews with the teachers and staff members involved. After that, according to Campbell, the dean’s office reviews all the information and determines next steps, if necessary, or whether to conclude the case without any disciplinary action.
“Once the Deans have completed their review of all information, they decide regarding what, if any, next steps should be taken, including reporting to [the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services] or the Evanston Police Department,” Campbell told the RoundTable. “If the Dean determines that the results of the investigation do not rise to the level of having to be reported to DCFS or the EPD, then a decision is made by the Deans Office regarding the next action(s) that may need to be taken, or to close the record in the Incident Reporting System.”
According to the public records obtained by the RoundTable, Dean of Student Success, Safety and Well-being William Shanahan filed multiple incident reports regarding Medrano’s conduct following interviews with students on the color guard team. Shanahan did not respond to multiple emails from the RoundTable, and it remains unclear how involved the dean’s office was in investigating and subsequently clearing Medrano.
When contacted by the RoundTable, ETHS declined to provide more clarity about the standard procedure for investigating incident reports, and the school did not confirm nor deny the accuracy of Campbell’s statement about the normal process that administrators follow in such cases.
A spokesperson for ETHS said the school “is not able to corroborate or comment on the information … that was relayed to you” by Campbell about the standard process for investigating student complaints filed against staff members.
According to a LaPorte Police Department investigation into Medrano conducted over the summer, the victim was a member of the color guard team at LaPorte High School when she was 16. Between October 2019 and March 2020, Medrano would follow her into a closet in the guard room almost every day to touch her breasts and thighs before and/or after practice, the arrest warrant for Medrano said.
A witness in LaPorte also told police that Medrano “would often grab girls hips during exercises” and “there were many times when Lorenzo would wear athletic shorts or sweatpants and would have a visible erection during exercises.” Multiple other witnesses in LaPorte confirmed these allegations to officers investigating Medrano’s behavior, according to the arrest warrant for Medrano.
Medrano was fired from his part-time position at LaPorte High School in March 2020 for reasons that remain unclear. He worked with the color guard team at ETHS from 2016 through the spring of 2021.
On Sept. 16, after ETHS officials first heard about Medrano’s arrest in Indiana, Hardy emailed Medrano directly to notify him that “you are being suspended from both of your stipend activities (Color Guard and Marching Band) at ETHS pending the outcome of the investigation being conducted on you by the LaPorte Indiana Police Department.”
According to emails that District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon sent to teachers and staff, both Campbell and Hardy have been on administrative leave from ETHS since October. A spokesperson for the school told the RoundTable that the district cannot share information related to personnel issues, and it remains unclear if ETHS placing its top two HR officials on leave is related to their handling of the Medrano investigation.
The RoundTable received the same automatic reply from both Campbell and Hardy’s school email addresses when attempting to contact them for comment.
“Thank you for contacting the Human Resources office. I am currently out of the office. Please contact HumanResources@eths.k12.il.us with any immediate needs,” both automatic responses said.
Hardy declined to comment when reached over the phone by the RoundTable, and Gehl did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls from the RoundTable.
At an ETHS District 202 School Board meeting in November, student representative Barbara Tomaradze told board members she feared for the safety of other students who may no longer feel comfortable sharing similar complaints because of the way staff members handled the allegations against Medrano. She said she spoke up so that something would be done to address possible wrongdoing at ETHS.
“This is the school’s reputation, but these are our lives, and I want to make sure that nobody’s put into danger because of the protection of other employees at ETHS,” she said. “I’m not sure what went wrong with that complaint or who’s at fault, but I’m sure something did go wrong.”
Board President Pat Savage-Williams was the only member who responded directly to Tomaradze at the meeting, saying that she appreciated her courage in speaking out about this and that the district would respond. The district knows it has work to do and will learn from past mistakes, Savage-Williams said.
“We don’t know what to think. We don’t know what to say,” Tomaradze said. “We’re just talking to each other, and we’re scared and worried because ETHS has a message that we’re safe here and we can come to you about things, but this instance is sending the complete opposite message.”
When contacted by the RoundTable for comment on how the school handled complaints against Medrano, ETHS Director of Communications Takumi Iseda said, “I recommend tuning into our next Board meeting – it will be livestreamed on Dec. 13.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.