Lake Forest School District 67 Superintendent Harry Griffith said "we made a mistake" in the way the district handled the arrest and conviction of Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert in 2009 on misdemeanor harassment charges of transmitting sexually explicit messages and a lewd photo to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student at the time.
When the Chicago Tribune contacted Griffith for its story on Thursday, they indicated an unredacted police report from the Gurnee Police Department was available that revealed the specific allegations about Steinert.
"We sure didn't know that until yesterday," Griffith said Friday afternoon. "If we had this information earlier, it would have been a different outcome to the remediation process we took."
Upon obtaining a copy of the unredacted police report with assistance from the Lake Forest Police Department, Griffith suspended Steinert and placed him on leave with pay. Steinert, 40, who has worked for the district for nearly six years, earns $170,000 a year. (See the attached redacted version).
Griffith said the board of education will meet in executive session at 5 p.m. Sunday to discuss Steinert's employment status.
Griffith professed he had no previous experience in this area to fall back on in order to take a different course of action.
"It's not that we got lazy," he said. "We didn't know to follow up. We didn't know how an arrest report is followed up pre- and post-court."
Griffith said the district's internal investigation, conducted by the human resources department, relied on Steinert to be forthcoming about his actions.
"I thought he was being straightforward with us," Griffith said. "When it first happened, he admitted right away to us that he was guilty. But he was contrite in his answers, and in the investigation, he said general things about what he did but not specific."
When Griffith saw the unredacted report, "it was shocking to see," he said. "The fact that the language was so aggressive."
According to the Chicago Tribune article and Griffith, Steinert used his school district cellphone to transmit some sexually explicit text messages covering a nine-month period starting in May 2008 and ending in January 2009, when the victim filed charges. One asked the woman if she wanted Steinert to perform specific sexual acts with her. He also sent a photograph of his penis to her. Steinert was not on school grounds when he transmitted the text messages or photo, Griffith said.
Griffith said Steinert met the victim at Deer Path Middle School while she was there shadowing the school's resource officer. The police report states her internship started in March 2008 and ended in May 2008.
"She was a Lake Forest Police Department intern, and she was rotating throughout the community with the police," Griffith explained.
Griffith said there was no attempt to talk to the victim because she was not an employee of the district, nor did it involve staff members, students or a minor. Griffith said he was advised by the district attorney not to speak with her.
"It was not a school-related activity other than they met at the school," Griffith said. "If it was more school-related, we would have talked to her."
District 67 held a meeting Friday morning for parents after sending out an email Thursday night about Steinert. Administrators and social workers were on call to be available to students as needed.