Did School District Ignore Warning About Band Teacher Fondling Students?
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CHICAGO (CBS) – A school custodian was speaking out Wednesday, accusing officials at West Aurora School District 129 of failing to protect students from a predatory band teacher.
Earlier this year, Stephen Orland was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fondling students. Prosecutors said Orland, who knew the girls since they were freshmen at West Aurora High School, sent them thousands of texts and dropped notes and letters in their lockers during school. In pleading guilty, he admitted that he arranged to meet the girls in a band storage room on separate occasions, where he abused them.
CBS 2’s Dave Savini investigates claims Orland could have been stopped long before his arrest in May 2011.
Leon Smith, a now-retired custodian at West Aurora High School, said he tried to stop Steve Orland a year before he was arrested.
Smith, who had been employed at the school for nearly 30 years, said he tried to do the right thing, and said he reported seeing Orland with a female student.
“What really made me mad is when i turned him in, they didn’t take him out,” said Smith talking about how school officials handled his reporting.
Smith said he caught Orland with a student in a storage room for the band. He said the lights were out; Orland had the girl up against a wall, and his hands were near her chest
“I said ‘what’s going on?'” said Smith. “I was shocked to see Steve Orland over there, and he just – boom – took off running.”
Smith said the girl started fixing her blouse.
Smith reported what he saw to school officials in July 2010. Instead of calling police or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), school administrators decided to conduct their own investigation.
“We want to be an open, transparent organization that puts the safety of children first,” said Dr. James Rydland, the superintendent of School District 129.
Rydland never talked to Smith, but said the custodian did not report seeing any touching. After the investigation was over, Rydland did meet with Orland, but never asked him if he touched the student.
The investigation was led by Dan Bridges, former principal of West Aurora High School. He and district officials decided police and DCFS did not need to be called.
“There was no physical contact,” said Rydland. “The information was that there was nothing that would rise to the occasion that would require mandated reporting.”
Instead Orland was given a warning about being alone in that band storage room with a student. Sources said the superintendent and principal kept that warning a secret even from the assistant principal, who said he should have been told.
Criminal court records show, in the year following this warning, Orland was allowed to give dozens of hall passes to girls to get them alone. He also was allowed to go on an overnight band trip, where he had sexual relations with a student.
“They could have stopped it a year ago,” Smith said. “They could have stopped it and they didn’t and they didn’t protect the kids.”
Nearly a year after Smith’s reporting, Orland was caught in the same band room with a student and, this time, was arrested.
Bridges said more could have been done, had they known more.
According to court records, Orland manipulated the victims’ schedules and grades, with little – if any – interference from school administrators.
DCFS referred the case to the Kane County State’s Attorney for an investigation into the district for failing to report Smith’s claims.
After catching Orland, the district made some security changes, including adding more security cameras. They also are in the process of making more changes following the CBS 2 investigation.