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West Aurora continues to address safety, community concerns

Updated: October 6, 2012 2:02PM



I’m not sure what — or who — I expected at Tuesday night’s West Aurora School Board meeting when the district publicly rolled out its new Safety Action Plan.

Our reporter who covers the district told me the audience was roughly twice its normal size ... which is a good thing. This comprehensive action plan — it includes 31 suggestions for how to handle reporting suspicions of sexual abuse and how to communicate that responsibility to district employees — is important for many reasons. It’s written to more adequately protect the safety of students, first and foremost. But if implemented and followed, it also shows that something good can come of the controversy that’s embroiled West Aurora since a former custodian went public with accusations that administrators ignored his warnings about Steve Orland long before the band director was arrested for sexually abusing students.

And in order to get that point across at Tuesday’s meeting, the school district laid it all out there.

Early into the meeting, they acknowledged to the larger than usual audience that the state’s attorney’s office is investigating these allegations, and that they would cooperate fully with authorities. Then they allocate funds to pay two high powered Kane County attorneys to represent them in the investigation.

The district also spoke directly to several complaints that have been raised since the controversy erupted several weeks ago: the lack of communication and the mistrust that some parents have expressed.

Parents, said school board member Angie Smith, must feel comfortable talking to the board or administration about any concerns without fear of retribution. And, she added, they must be assured that someone will listen to those concerns and do something about it.

With Superintendent Jim Rydland doing most of the speaking, the district addressed the need “to do better on all grounds.”

That includes working to build better communication “until the loop is closed,” as well as relying more on outside sources to help out in time of crisis. And he repeatedly stressed the need to make sure all policies, whether they were safety action plans or involved social media, must be crystal clear — with no room for guessing as to what the expectations are.

Rydland described the action plan as a “dynamic document” that can and will change in response to feedback from students, parents, staff and the community, including police and other outside agencies. The plan currently includes such components as a more comprehensive approach to ensure mandatory reporting by all district employees; to a new pilot program designed to help students understand the importance of reporting abuse.

The presentation by the board was thorough. Still, some of those in the audience remain skeptical. John Heiss, a former West parent, says school politics has gotten in the way of the safety of children for eight years, and reiterated a concern raised by many: a culture of fear and intimidation that has kept people from coming forward.

And John Wilson, whose daughter also has graduated from West and has become an outspoken critic, was both skeptical and angry.

“We need to discuss total transparency with the board,” he said.

“I think it is ridiculous that the school board will assist in the defense of any staff or school administrators in a criminal investigation.”



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