Charleston School District – Did child safety take a back seat to possible evidence destruction?

Coles. Co. (ECWd) –

Approximately two weeks ago I attended the Charleston School Board meeting as a messenger and to get some answers.  If you watch the video of my public comment in this article, you will see my focus was on how a child in South Carolina is the alleged victim of sexual abuse from a former Illinois licensed Superintendent who actually admitted to kissing one of his students and rubbing her feet.  Multiple Illinois schools did nothing and the state simply revoked his license for 5 years. The history is troubling and all indications are the local paper is missing a real concern here in our backyard.

The issue we have with what happened in the Charleston School District is about the safety of your kids.  Before anyone should worry about shredded records, which we will get into in another article, don’t you think we should look at the timeline and actions taken by the Administration and implement appropriate corrective action to better protect our children in the future?

  • October 2017 – Substitute Teacher passes a background check and begins work.

We contend that is not enough to ensure the safety of your children.

Records show that a criminal investigation had begun on Mr. Rivas as early as December of 2016.  Why didn’t anyone find that information? A simple phone call to the Montgomery County Texas authorities would have been able to confirm a criminal investigation had begun.  Even more troubling is the court record from Texas: “A 14-year-old girl made an outcry to her mother that she was sexually assaulted by her neighbor when she was babysitting Rivas’ children earlier that day”.  

We have reports right here in Charleston that Rivas had at least one student who babysat for him. Has anyone reached out to see if similar events took place?

Unanswered questions regarding the MCSO: Did they confirm where he was living?  If so, did they contact any authorities in the area to advise them of the criminal investigation taking place so that local agencies could be on the lookout for the same behavioral issues?

  • Parents complained about the collection of inappropriate materials that included personal information, parent’s employment, pictures, etc.

After numerous news stories on this, we now have clear posturing going on.  We have confirmed, “at the advice of the School legal counsel”, they are to keep their mouth shut and not talk to anyone about this.  Such advice is given by lawyers when they have identified a potential legal concern on the part of their client.  It appears they failed to understand one side of the law.  The very school code they are bound by outlines that the board shall give the public and employees time at every meeting for comments and questions.  The legislative intent is for those people to get answers to those questions.  For a law firm to tell them to not to answer questions appears to be in direct conflict with the law.

105 ILCS 5/10-6 – At each regular and special meeting which is open to the public, members of the public and employees of the district shall be afforded time, subject to reasonable constraints, to comment to or ask questions of the board.

  • The school takes the position they have no complaints on “file”.

More posturing as we confirmed with the School Board President that there were in fact complaints, however now the reporting by the paper is that the Schools Position is there were no “Official” complaints.

We contend there is no such thing as an Official Complaint. 

Reading the Schools own policy, the word “Official” does not appear as it relates to parents reporting their suggestions and complaints.  In fact, the policy is 8:110 Public Suggestions and Complaints, however, the actual policy makes no reference to the word complaint other than on the title found on the website. Instead, it uses the word “concerns”

From the Policy: “All suggestions and/or concerns will be referred to the appropriate level staff member or District administrator who is most able to respond in a timely manner. Each concern or suggestion shall be considered on its merit.”

What is so troubling in this case, is based on their own policy, the parents that contacted the Administration did so within the guidelines of the policy and based on the school’s actions, those complaints had merit.  As we understand it now, the school has kept no record of any of those complaints from parents that clearly led to action taken, the destruction of the material in question.

We suggest a policy revision that requires all complaints and concerns are documented by the Administration and kept on “file”.

  • Complaints to school considered informal

“Coe (School Board President) said the parents who were concerned about the class project shared their concerns indirectly via social media or informally to the principal and did not file any official complaints with the school district.” -(according to the local paper)

As we outlined above, there is no “Offical” complaint process.  A complaint is a complaint.  Their own policy was followed.  What is troubling with this statement is they are confirming parents, plural, “informally” shared their concerns.  If it was informal can anyone explain why all the records were destroyed?  The destruction points to valid concerns.  For the Administration to hide behind qualifier words like “official” and “informal” is disingenuous.  In fairness to those making those statements, we suspect it was done at the advice of legal counsel who is more worried about protecting the school, their client, than the protection of your children.

  • Complaints validated by the destruction of material.

Considering the information that was collected was concerning enough for them to destroy it, is it out of line to contact authorities and start an investigation to determine if this teacher was actually luring or grooming children, which can be a sexual offense under the Criminal Code? One of the red flags to point to that is the collection of the questionable material, now destroyed.

The other indicator is the overwhelming acceptance this teacher seemed to have generated in such a short period of time.  I was told everyone from Administration down to all the kids just loved this guy.  Interesting statement from school officials in light of the fact there were parents complaining about him.  The two positions don’t mix.

  • The teacher still teaching with no further investigation up to the point of his arrest. 

What further investigation do we believe should have been conducted to ensure the safety of your children?

We know the material that was destroyed has two prongs to it.  The collection of pictures, which the Administration says they authorized, and the non-authorized collection of questionnaires.  I would think the public has a right to know what those questions were, especially since they were not authorized by the school. Initial claims by the School was that it was for a sociology project, yet parents have confirmed their kids were not in sociology, thus should not have had that information collected from them.

What was this teacher gathering?

According to the reporting by the local paper, “Coe (School Board President) said on Tuesday that the principal did authorize Rivas to collect photos, but not questionnaires.”

That is an important point.  A Board President confirming there was no authorization for the collection of information through these questionnaires is a red flag.

Why is that important?

The paper reported: “the district found no reason to take action against Rivas regarding the class project. He said teachers often use student photos for class projects, and Rivas had a complaint-free record at the time and was known for being well-liked by parents.”

Does anyone else find it concerning that the district made no mention of the questionnaires and only the photos? Considering action by the teacher was not authorized, is this Administration of the opinion that a teacher can collect information on kids without authorization and it would not provide a reason to take action, such as question why they are collecting unauthorized information?

When a teacher takes action that is not authorized one would think that is grounds to take action.  The fact this administration does not see it that way is very concerning.

  • February – Teacher arrested by authorities

After the public exposure of the teacher’s arrest, social media exploded with parents expressing their anger.  Their previous complaints, considered unofficial and/or informal by the Administration, they feel, fell short of proper action to ensure the protection of their children. They are of the opinion they raised the warning flag and it was ignored.

We agree with them. 

We urge all parents to come forward with any information of possible questionable actions by anyone and their kids. When we do nothing and allow our public officials to drop the ball, other kids can be harmed, as appears to be the case in South Carolina.

Speak up, it may prevent another child from being harmed!


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1 reply »

  1. IF “concerns” were voiced only on Facebook / social media general comments / banter and NOT relayed directly to teachers, school personnel, etc., let this be a lesson to all: Facebook is not the way to address problems ! Make a damned phone call !

    If, on the other hand, a report or concern (verbal or otherwise) WAS made directly to school officials, please disregard my admonition and accept my apology.

    Please note that ANY person may call the DCFS child abuse / neglect hotline at 1-800-25ABUSE ! The reporter does not have to be the parent or guardian of a possible victim child. The call can be 2nd or 3rd hand info. DCFS will take the info, investigate and determine if there is credible evidence – an “Indicated” complaint – or not.

    ALL non-mandated reporters (the public) may remain confidential / anonymous.

    Had a call been placed to the hotline and the name of the potential exploiter / abuser been provided, even the simplest of initiated DCFS investigations would have resulted in a CANTs check and a background check – checking for previous reports to DCFS. Since apparently, there were no reports made to IL DCFS, the assigned investigator may well have looked at the background of the teacher and contacted child protective services & law enforcement with jurisdiction in his last known address, etc. AS WDs pointed out, it is well-known that perps move around, and continue to seek their preferred victim target group. This may have uncovered the truth and limited further exposure of potential victims to this man.

    Individuals who voice concerns or suspicions to Mandated Reporters do not have to “make an official complaint.” Most concerns are, by their very nature, made verbally. It is up to the Mandated Reporter to document per their agency policy and report to DCFS hotline.
    What a ridiculous statement to make, “There were no official complaints.”

    If actually voiced to school personnel, was the teacher ever interviewed by school administration about any of the concerns ?
    If so, I guess we’ll never know until this goes further and someone with a conscience does the right thing and blows the whistle.

    TO THAT END: I would say there could be a problem for the Charleston School District, and any teacher, teacher’s aid, administrator, et al., re the IL Mandated Reporter Law (325 ILCS 5/4) which is contained within the IL Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA). This information, relative to Mandated Reporters, is contained in a DCFS publication and also on the internet, “Department of Children and Family Services DCFS Children’s Justice Task Force – Guidelines for Calling the Child Abuse Hotline.” The law REQUIRES / MANDATES certain professionals (including school personnel) to report suspected child abuse / neglect / exploitation by SIMPLY calling the DCFS Hotline at 1-800-25ABUSE. The Mandated Reporter Law was enacted because certain professionals who work with children are assumed to be in the best position to recognize and report child abuse and neglect as soon as possible. IF suspicions and concerns of potential child abuse or exploitation were voiced or relayed to school personnel, and “…reasonable cause to believe that a child known to them or in their professional or official capacity MAY be an abused or neglected child”, I believe they have some serious exposure to both, violation of ANCRA and civil liability, not to mention some explaining to parents and tax payers.

    Bottom line, it is well known that calls to DCFS hotline can cause extreme anxiety and family disruption to that of the individual who is reported as a potential abuser. However, safeguards are in place to maintain confidentiality for all involved. More importantly, it is nothing compared to the lifetime of suffering incurred by the child victim and the victim’s family. If you suspect something, say something – in the proper venue – for God’s sake !

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