AURORA, Ill. (CBS) — Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon said Wednesday he could charge officials at West Aurora School District 129 with failing to report suspicions that convicted former band teacher Steve Orland was abusing students, but has chosen instead to require training for all school employees.
A year ago, CBS 2’s Dave Savini broke the story of an alleged coverup of abuse and reports now that not everyone is satisfied with this deal.
Kane County States Attorney Joe McMahon launched an investigation into West Aurora School District after the CBS2 investigators exposed how school officials failed to report Orland to DCFS after janitor Leon Smith caught him abusing a female student in a classroom.
“Evidence exists to proceed with charges of failing to report [child abuse],” McMahon said.
McMahon said people can agree or disagree with his decision not to file charges, but he stands by it as the right thing to do. He said there was no evidence of a coverup, and that the problem was more one of ignorance of the state’s reporting law than anything else.
“There’s a balancing act that we go through every day about who to charge, what to charge them with,” he said. “What we did in this case is looked at what our ultimate goal was; was to improve the safety of children within that school district.”
He said he believes educating school officials about the law for reporting allegations of abuse would be more effective than prosecuting school officials.
“There is confusion about the mandatory reporting law in Illinois. There is confusion about what the definition of reasonable suspicion means,” he said.
McMahon said it’s a fine line.
“There are people who that agree or disagree with my decision today. I think this is the decision that will have the greatest impact over the longest period of a time,” he said.
Former school custodian Leon Smith informed school officials in 2010 that he had seen West Aurora High School band teacher Steve Orland alone with a female student in a darkened storage room, and Orland had his hands on the girl.
“He was up on her, up against the wall. I guess he must have been kissing her, because when I said something, he just took off running,” he said.
But school officials said Smith never told them Orland was touching the girl.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Orland was charged with sexual abuse of two other students.
Smith, who got into McMahon’s press conference by claiming to be a cameraman, said he believes former principal Dan Bridges – now the Naperville school superintendent – and District 129 Superintendent Dr. Jim Rydland should be held accountable.
“I think Dr. Rydland protected him because they were really good friends,” Smith said.
McMahon disagreed. He also said he prosecuted any school officials and won, failure to report child abuse is a misdemeanor that would not likely bring jail time.
Orland ultimately pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of two girls and is now serving a 12-year sentence.
DCFS released a statement applauding McMahon’s decision, saying, “Strong staff training requirements, strong internal reporting policies and thorough background checks of those with access to children ought to be the policy of all school districts and other mandated reporters as well. Violations of the Mandated Reporter Act are prevalent, particularly in the suburbs. Illinois should not wait for CBS 2 to uncover another tragic failure but take action to prevent the next tragedy, and DCFS is ready to work with legislators if needed.”