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Lawsuit: West Aurora should have done more to stop Orland

Former West AurorHigh School bdirector Steve Orland

Former West Aurora High School band director Steve Orland

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:53AM



One of the teenagers who was sexually abused by former West Aurora Band Director Steve Orland has filed a lawsuit, claiming district officials had enough information to stop the abuse.

The suit names Orland, West Aurora Superintendent Jim Rydland, former West Aurora principal Dan Bridges and the West Aurora school district as defendants. Bridges is now the Superintendent of Naperville School District 203.

In May 2011, a district employee walked in on Orland and the 17-year-old female student partially undressed in a band storage room. After that report, the district notified DCFS and the police. Orland was placed on leave and eventually terminated. The former star band leader later unapologetically pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexual contact with two girls between late 2009 and spring of 2010. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is one of those two victims.

The debate over how the district handled complaints about Orland recently reignited. In August, a former West Aurora custodian went public with his allegation that he’d spotted Orland and a student acting strangely in a band room in July of 2010, 10 months before Orland was charged with sexually abusing the two other girls in the same band room. The custodian said when he walked into the storage room, Orland and the girl were very close. Orland took off running as soon as the janitor walked in. The custodian reported the incident to Bridges and Rydland, who did not call DCFS.

This suit filed Thursday in Kane County court repeats most of the custodian’s allegations. (Orland was never charged in the 2010 incident and the girl has not been identified.) However, the suit argues that district officials should have had concerns even earlier.

“It seemed clear even before (the custodian) walked in on Orland, there was reasonable suspicion,” said Craig Brown, the attorney representing the Orland victim. “Then, at that point (when the janitor walked in), obviously there was plenty of reason to suspect he was acting inappropriately.”

According to the suit, while he was at school Orland “commonly engaged in acts of sexual innuendo”, including hugging female students from behind, kissing female students on the forehead, giving female students full-body embraces and placing his arm or hand around students’ waists. Numerous teachers and administrators were uncomfortable with Orland’s behavior toward female students prior to fall of 2010, the suit says.

The suit seeks damages from Orland for battery and infliction of emotional distress. The suit seeks damages from Bridges, Rydland and the West Aurora School District for failing to report allegations, failure to supervise Orland’s actions, and failure to fire or suspend Orland. The suit says Rydland and Bridges’ failure to act after the custodian’s report gave Orland the opportunity to abuse the other girls.

Bridges could not be reached for comment. The West Aurora School District declined to the comment on the 25-page complaint.

“We haven’t seen a copy of the complaint so we’re not able to comment,” West Aurora School District Spokesman Mike Chapin said Saturday.

However, in the past, district officials have repeatedly said the janitor’s report — made weeks after the incident — did not provide credible evidence of abuse or even physical contact between Orland and a student.

“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,” School District attorney Pete Wilson told the Beacon-News in August. “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.”

Rydland previously told the Beacon-News, before the custodian came forward, they had no previous complaints against Orland.

School employees are mandated by law to call DCFS if they suspect a student has been physically or sexually abused. Brown said Rydland or Bridges should have called, rather than conduct their own investigation into the janitor incident.

“The law does not want the superintendent and the principal investigating their friends and colleagues,” Brown said. “They’re not trained to do that and obviously they have biases.”

Since the janitor talked to the Beacon-News about the 2010 incident, the Kane County state’s attorney’s office has begun investigating whether the district failed to meet their legal duty to report. No charges have been filed. DCFS spokesman Jimmy Whitlow has said Orland running out of the room should have been enough to trigger a report to DCFS.

The girl in the suit is identified as “Jane Doe”. She has filed an application to proceed under a fictitious name to avoid additional damages she would sustain if her name were made public. She has received counseling for the severe emotional distress she has suffered, the suit says.

Brown said he was not representing Orland’s second victim and he was not aware whether that girl had an attorney. The suit is scheduled to be in court Dec. 6.



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