Court OKs Suit Against Normal School’s Inaction on Sex Abuse
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Illinois Supreme Court has allowed a lawsuit accusing McLean County school officials of not doing enough to keep an abusive teacher from being hired in Urbana.
31-year old Jon White was teaching at Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal when parents complained about him abusing their daughters. He wasn't charged with a crime at the time, but the school did suspend him. White went on to abuse at least eight girls at a new job at Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana.
White was eventually found out, and he is serving a 60-year sentence for sexually abusing 10 girls. The parents of two Urbana victims claim school officials in Normal should have alerted Urbana about the previous complaints.
Thursday's 5-2 ruling did not hold that school officials have a broad duty to warn other schools about potentially dangerous teachers.
Instead, it found that McLean County school officials opened themselves up to a lawsuit by filling out an employment verification form without noting the teacher had been suspended. The court said that information might have been a "red flag'' to the Urbana school district that wound up hiring teacher Jon White.
Champaign attorney Ellyn Bulllock, who represents two girls who were students of White's at Thomas Paine, called the high court's ruling a narrow and careful decision, but also 'wonderful', addressing the very point that worries her most.
"I've been really concerned about the willful, intentional passing of a pedophile to another school district," she said. "The school says 'we've got a problem, we've got a pedophile teacher, we're going to send him somewhere else so we don't have to deal with him.' I think it's a problem nationwide. But right now, the Illinois Supreme Court has said 'you can't do that in our state."
The lawsuit by the families of sexually abused students now goes to trial. Bullock says those proceedings should be starting up 'in the next several months' in Champaign County Circuit Court. But before that happens, she expects to find more about what school officials did in McLean County school officials did or did not do to falsify records, or give misinformation.
"We're not done," Bullock said. "We alleged in our complaint what we knew, but that was the tip of the iceberg. There might be lots more."
In response to this case (SCOIL Case No. 112479), Illinois has made a law that addresses the situation in the future. It requires schools that suspect an employee of abuse to report it to the state.