Kane prosecutors probe West’s handling of Orland case
By Matt Hanley email@example.com September 1, 2012 9:58PM
An Aurora police report that includes a statement by a woman who caught Steve Orland with a student, which eventually lead to charges.
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:12AM
The question of whether West Aurora School District administrators did enough with information they had about former band director Steve Orland is now in the hands of the Kane County state’s attorney’s office.
As a policy, the state’s attorney’s office does not comment on whether it is, or is not, investigating criminal allegations and they declined to comment on this case. However, several sources close to the investigation have confirmed that prosecutors are investigating a 2010 incident where a janitor reported walking in on Orland with a student in the band room. The janitor reported some version of that incident to West Aurora administrators, who decided it did not reach the level for a report of possible abuse to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
School employees are mandated by law to call DCFS if they suspect a student has been physically or sexually abused.
The Beacon-News received copies of the police reports filed in the 2011 investigation into Orland, which resulted in the charges to which he pleaded guilty. The reports — totalling 132 pages — have significant redactions, with witness and victim names, as well as some entire statements blacked out. However, the reports appear to back up both the School District’s and the janitor’s statements to The Beacon-News.
The incident related by former West High custodian Leon Smith took place in a band storage room about 10 months before Orland was charged with sexually abusing two other girls in the same band room. Orland pleaded guilty to abusing the two other girls and is serving a 12-year sentence. (He has not been charged in connection with the 2010 incident.)
In July 2010, Smith says he walked in on Orland and the girl in a band storage room, after Smith heard giggling. Smith says Orland started running when he walked in. After talking to his union steward, Smith talked to Dan Bridges, who was then the principal at West Aurora High School. According to Bridges’ notes, Smith initially told Bridges that Orland was touching the girl, then later clarified that Orland was standing close to her.
The district has repeatedly said the janitor’s report — which he made weeks after the incident — did not provide credible evidence of abuse or even physical contact between Orland and a student.
Not enough evidence
West Aurora spokesman Mike Chapin said Friday that he has been instructed not to comment because of possible litigation.
However, in past meetings with The Beacon-News, School District attorney Pete Wilson said Smith’s report amounted to a teacher and a student alone in a room.
“The facts as relayed to the union president, the facts as relayed to the supervisor and the facts as they were relayed to the school principal were all consistent. The fact was that they had seen a school employee alone with female student in a room but there had been no touching or other inappropriate conduct,” Wilson said.
“Under those circumstances, there was nothing that would rise to the standard of a mandated report to DCFS because there was no inappropriate conduct going on. We would not normally report any time a teacher is alone with a student. That, by itself, is not enough or sufficient.”
Girl denies incident
After Orland was charged, police talked to Smith, who relayed a largely similar version to police as he reportedly told to Bridges.
Bridges, who now is the superintendent of the Naperville School District, told police he had spoken to Smith on two different days about possible inappropriate behavior between Orland and a student.
“(Smith) had made a few different statements and didn’t seem to be very clear on what exactly he saw,” the police report says. Just as Bridges’ notes reflect, Smith at first reported contact, then backed off that statement.
According to the police reports, Smith did identify the girl he believed was in the room with Orland. However, when police talked to the girl, she denied it was her. She said that she was working that summer and never been alone in the band room with Orland.
Faced with a report that was weeks old, with no complaint from a student or parent, and no allegation of contact, the district decided not to call DCFS. Both Bridges and West Aurora Superintendent Jim Rydland met with Orland to admonish him about the appearance of inappropriate conduct, but took no disciplinary action.
“I want to make sure it’s real clear, at the time, the information that was provided us by this custodian did not rise to the level at which we felt we needed to report,” Rydland earlier told The Beacon-News. “If we had any evidence of any physical contact by Mr. Orland with respect to his student, in this situation, we would have immediately reported it.”
DCFS spokesman Jimmy Whitlow said the guideline for calling DCFS is suspicion, not proof.
“What we say is: if you suspect abuse or neglect, then report it,” he said.
Whitlow said Orland running out of the room should have been enough of a trigger for a report to DCFS.
“That gentleman (Smith) reported something inappropriate,” he said. “That’s suspicion, isn’t it?”
Whitlow said the fact the custodian that Smith could have called DCFS is a different issue, but “he did the right thing in taking it to his supervisor.”
In the spring of 2011, another district employee — suspicious of stories she heard about Orland — observed the teacher with a female student that created suspicion, and the district notified DCFS and the police. Orland was placed on leave and eventually terminated. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexual contact with girls.