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Monday, November 21, 2011


Principal resigns over sexting

Lake Forest principal who 'sexted' resigns


Lisa Black

Tribune reporter

8:36 PM CST, November 20, 2011


A Lake Forest middle school principal resigned today in response to controversy over how the district handled his use of a work cellphone to send vulgar, harassing messages to a 22-year-old college student.

Parents only recently became aware that Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert, 40, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment through electronic communications in May 2009, after a Tribune report described police and court records.

As a result, Lake Forest School District 67 officials re-examined the case by viewing a completed police report that they said they had not seen before. The report showed that Steinert repeatedly sent sexually explicit messages, as well as a photograph of his penis, to the young woman after she ignored him or told him to stop.

At the time, the district wrote a letter admonishing the principal, ordered him to counseling, confiscated his cellphone and temporarily froze his salary. But the district expanded his job duties and gave him a bonus within the next year, officials said.

On Friday, Superintendent Harry Griffith announced that he planned to recommend Steinert’s dismissal during a special closed-door school board meeting today. Steinert instead offered his resignation, which was accepted by the board at its meeting.

The board met for two hours before approving Steinert's resignation in a 6-0 vote and recommending a review and strengthening of policies, including those concerning employees who are accused of criminal behavior, harassment and the proper use of social media. The board will recommend the suspension of the school resource police officer program, and establish a task force that includes community members to review policies.

The college student met Steinert after visiting the school at least 10 times while shadowing a police resource officer stationed at the school.

Board members will vote on those recommendations during its Nov. 29 meeting. Steinert will not receive any compensation beyond his paycheck as of Friday, Griffith said.

 "I can tell you that we didn’t even make a request for severance, for a buyout, or for additional insurance,” said Steinert’s lawyer, Brian Schwartz. “He just felt to help the kids, to help the school district and the community get past this, it was the right thing to do to submit his letter of resignation.”

About 20 residents attended Sunday’s meeting, with several demanding the resignation of Griffith and the board members who served in 2009.

“I know you are going to do the right thing regarding the principal so I am not concerned about the principal,” said Jerry Tunney, a retired principal who has lived in Lake Forest since 1966. “I am concerned about your handling of the superintendent’s contract. You will provide for him an unbelievable golden parachute. Is that parachute still packed? Is it ready to be presented to him this spring when he retires?”

Chris Munns, also a resident who is a principal in Chicago Public Schools, said she was disgusted when she came home from work to learn her 10 and 11-year-old children talking about the principal.

“My children knew exactly what had happened to their principal. No adult had spoken to my children,” Munns said. “No social worker had talked to them...  they are talking about it in the hallways. They are talking about it in the classrooms. “Shame on you, Harry Griffith. You had a chance to handle this two years ago and you didn’t.”

Michael Beacham, a parent, said the district needs new leadership.

“I don’t think we need a task force. I think we need leadership. Dr. Griffith, a true leader in this situation would have done more in 2009. A true leader would resign,” Beacham said. “And board members, I’m embarrassed to call you my school board members. You shouldn't have given Dr. Griffith the ability to resign. You should have demanded it.”

When asked if the board has asked for Griffith's resignation, President Julia Wold said it hadn’t done so. Wold also said that she does not intend to resign.

The subject of Steinert’s harassment was a student at Lake Forest College who was serving an internship with the Lake Forest police department at the time. She filed her complaint against Steinert in January 2009 with police in Gurnee, where she lived.

On Monday, the Lake Forest City Council is expected to call for an investigation into allegations that the school resource officer also made inappropriate sexually explicit remarks to the woman during her internship. That officer was not charged or suspected of any criminal wrongdoing, according to Gurnee police.

But when Gurnee police contacted Lake Forest Police Chief Joseph Buerger in early 2009 and told him that the officer was mentioned in the report, Buerger did not investigate, Lake Forest officials confirmed this week.

Many District 67 parents have expressed outrage over the revelations, questioning why school officials and local police failed to seek more information in 2009.
Griffith has previously said that a district employee interviewed Steinert “multiple times” after he was arrested. School officials did not interview the victim because she was not a district employee and the case did not involve minors, he said.

According to Gurnee police, Steinert admitted that he sent the intern text messages from May 2008 to January 2009. Some included graphic references to specific sexual acts.

The State Board of Education, also prompted by questions from the Tribune, opened an investigation Thursday into whether Steinert's education certificate should be suspended or revoked based on his conduct, an agency spokeswoman said.




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