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ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP, Ill. (STMW) – In what will likely be his final public performance, Steve Orland was defiant and unapologetic. On Friday, the former West Aurora High School band director pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two band students, then read a lengthy statement that praised his own accomplishments and ignored his two victims.
In exchange for pleading guilty, Orland, 42, of North Aurora, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fondling two band students at separate times in 2010 and 2011. Orland admitted to fondling one 17-year-old girl’s breast and, on another occasion, allowing another 16-year-old girl to touch his groin at the school.
In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop 25 other counts of battery, sexual assault and sexual abuse. Among the charges that were dropped included allegations that one of the girls performed oral sex on Orland, and that he had sexual contact with one of the girls in a minivan on a side street after a band concert.
Prosecutors said Orland, who knew the girls since they were freshmen, sent them thousands of text messages, dropped notes in their lockers and arranged meetings at school.
After agreeing to the plea deal, Orland read from a lengthy typed statement that he had titled “For that I am grateful.” The statement listed Orland’s many accomplishments as a teacher and band director. He also thanked the family and friends who have supported him, including dozens who gathered in the court Friday.
At no point in the statement did Orland apologize to the victims or the school district. He never mentioned the two girls. He did admit Friday was a difficult day and that he was experiencing a “wide range” of emotions.
Praises self, career
After saying he was saddened by the circumstances that brought him to court, Orland began listing his accomplishments from nearly two decades teaching in the West Aurora School District.
After each section of his statement, Orland repeated the phrase “for that, I am grateful,” as if it were a refrain from a musical composition.
Orland said he had no regrets about the many extra hours he spent trying to help students, including his time on the Positive Behavior Intervention committee. He said his binders of thank you notes are proof he made a difference to young musicians.
“The band room was the second home and that’s what it was: a safe place to be,” he said.
Judge Allen Anderson did not concur with Orland’s assessment. Anderson said Orland may have helped students, but his other actions had serious consequences.
“You have disgraced your profession and you have weakened the trust parents have in the educational system,” Anderson said. “You cannot undo the damage you have done to your victims.”
Sex in school building
Orland was arrested in May 2011, after another band teacher found Orland engaging in unusual behavior with a 17-year-old student in the band storage room. The other teacher told officials she tried to open the storage room door and was met with resistance. When Orland opened the door, his clothes were disheveled.
According to court records, the girl later told police she and Orland had started a romantic relationship in September 2010 when she was 17.
During that time, she had given Orland oral sex in his office and in the band room at West High, court records said. A second student then reported that separately she had also had a relationship with Orland when she was 16-years-old.
In March of 2010, he fondled the girl under her clothes. Prosecutors said they recovered thousands of text messages Orland had sent to the girls, sometimes during school.
In January 2011, prosecutors said, Orland sent one of the girls text messages to the effect of “I want to kiss you right now” and “I want you now”.
In May 2011, after the investigation began, Orland met with one of the victim’s friends and said “we cannot let the girls testify against me,” according to court records. And at unspecified times, Orland told one of the girls “if (she) really loved him, she would not testify,” according to court records.
“The victims and witnesses in this case are to be praised for the courage they showed in coming forward,” said Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon. “It could not have been easy, knowing they would face scorn and ridicule from this defendant’s allies. But they showed mettle and resolve that will prevent other young women from being exploited and victimized by this defendant.”
Says God is with him
As he continued his statement Friday morning, Orland said it was “such a joy to lend a hand” in various community activities, including coaching baseball, serving on the PTA and 16 years as a religious education teacher.
“God is walking with me and my family through this,” Orland said.
Orland lamented the time he will be away from his three children. He called it “ironic” that he will be absent during a time in their lives when he is most qualified to mentor them and coach their musical development. He also praised the beauty and courage of his wife, whom he called his “soul mate.”
“That love current that we share has never been stronger than it is today,” he said.
Victims spared testifying
On Friday, Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Pam Monaco said she was glad to spare the victims the pain of testifying, although she was prepared to go to trial. Prosecutors felt they had a strong case against Orland, who had no previous criminal history.
Orland was sentenced to six years in prison for contact with each girl. The sentences will have to be served consecutively. With good behavior, he would only have to serve half that time. He could have received probation.
Orland will have to register as a sex offender for life, meaning he can never teach children.
After the hearing, Orland’s attorney said the former teacher does regret his actions.
“He’s sorry for the entire matter, for the entire incident,” attorney Philip Nathe said. “It may not have come across in his statement, but he’s very sorry.”
West Aurora School District spokesman Mike Chapin released a short statement Friday.
“We terminated Mr. Orland in August,” Chapin said. “We are pleased to see a resolution to the separate criminal case.”
Chapin said the district is committed to making sure all students are safe in the classroom. He refused to comment on whether the district has made any policy or procedure changes since Orland was reported.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)