District 67 Board Will Ask Regional Superintendent to Investigate Action Taken in Steinert Case
Parents again ask for superintendent's resignation, but he refuses.
In response to two parent meetings held within 48 hours, Lake Forest School District 67 will ask Lake County Regional Superintendent Roycelee Wood's office to investigate the school board's and Superintendent Harry Griffith's actions related to the resignation of Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert.
In addition, Board of Education President Julia Wold said an independent counsel will be asked to investigate the board's and Griffith's actions.
The school board voted 6-0 Sunday to approve Steinert's resignation in the wake of new information regarding his misdemeanor harassment by electronic communication conviction in 2009, which included sexually graphic text messages, voicemails and a lewd photo sent to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student, who was an intern with the Lake Forest Police Department. The victim was shadowing a school resource officer at Deer Path as part of a rotation throughout the city, and encountered Steinert at least 10 times while visiting the school.
Steinert, 40, used his district-issued cell phone to text and leave voicemail messages with the victim over an eight-month period from May through December 2008.
Since his departure from the school district last Thursday, Griffith said Steinert's school computer was looked at for any discrepancies and "nothing was found."
Griffith: 'I was stunned, shocked, amazed.'
Appearing before a packed room Monday evening at the district offices in Lake Forest, Griffith recounted the events that led to the board's vote Sunday. In doing so, Griffith indicated, "there was no cover-up, there was no conspiracy" with regard to how the district acted based upon the information it had at the time.
"I had no idea of the heinous nature of his acts," Griffith said. "And when I did find out, it was unbelievable. I was stunned, shocked, amazed."
Griffith admitted to being naive when it came to relying strictly on the Gurnee Police Department’s redacted report about Steinert's offenses, and not pursuing more information once he was convicted.
"I did not send our lawyer a copy of the redacted form," he said. "It would have been helpful to do that. We see the mistakes we made, but it was not a cover-up."
- See related story in Gazebo News, which interviewed Gurnee police Cmdr. Jay Patrick on what information was shared with the school district.
Parents sought greater accountability from Griffith in the form of either an apology or his resignation. He offered neither.
One woman read from text she had written, noting, "I have yet to hear I'm sorry. All I hear is a lack of knowledge. We need a superintendent that leads and a board that works to the benefit of the community. I don't want to clean up your mess. Admit you were wrong and gracefully step down."
Fire Versus Accept Steinert's Resignation
Parents queried why the school board chose not to fire Steinert on Sunday rather than accept his resignation. Board member Jay Pinderski, who is one of three board members who was on the board in 2009, initially explained it as a matter of "dollars and cents."
"In accepting his resignation, he's off the payroll," Pinderski said. "If we fire him, there are procedures we have to go through (a hearing, a district-paid lawyer to represent Steinert), and he retains his salary for 10 to 14 days. We all wanted closure to this. There is no fun in firing him."
There were questions about whether Steinert would be able to retain his pension. Griffith said Sunday that Steinert had worked for two other school districts besides Lake Forest, and that a misdemeanor conviction “is unrelated to what his particular pension is.”
"We can't control his pension, whether we fire him or accept his resignation," Wold said at Monday's meeting.
Firing Steinert in 2009
Wold, who also was on the board in 2009, said firing Steinert was discussed by the board in 2009. The school attorney said it was an action they could take, but they chose to retain him, froze his salary for a year and demoted him.
"He was a very strong leader who made a mistake," Wold said. "We did consider it a very serious matter. If we fired him, we would have to deal with a community over a very popular principal."
Steinert did receive a pay raise in 2010, Griffith said.
As part of his court-ordered community service, Steinert served as a basketball coach with Full Package Athletics. Another Deer Path Middle School teacher, not identified at the meeting, already was working for the travel basketball outfit.
"That was approved by the court," Griffith said. "The school is not involved in his community service."
Another woman ask Wold how the district can move forward with selecting a new superintendent, who will replace Griffith when he retires at the end of this school year, with the Steinert issue still very much an open wound.
"We need to heal from this and move forward," Wold said. "The best thing we can do is to continue to search for a new superintendent."
Wold said the search firm hired to select prospective candidates is expected to present seven to the board at the Nov. 29 board meeting. At 5 p.m. before that meeting, the school district will conduct another open session with parents.