Resident Remains Steadfast in Blaming Griffith for Steinert Issue
Sends letter to board asking Griffith to be fired; posts online petition for others to join him.
A Lake Forest resident remains vigilant in finding School District 67 Superintendent Harry Griffith culpable over the handling of former Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert.
Steinert resigned shortly after new information in a Nov. 16 Chicago Tribune article detailed his 2009 conviction for misdemeanor harassment by electronic communication for sexually explicit text messages, voice mails and a lewd photo from his school district-issued cell phone to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student, who was an intern with the Lake Forest Police Department working at Deer Path.
On March 6, Lake Forest resident Michael Beacham e-mailed a copy of a letter sent to District 67 Board of Education president Julia Wold asking that Griffith be fired. The e-mail was addressed to "Fellow Advocates for Accountability in District 67".
He has also posted a “Fire Harry Griffith” petition on www.change.org, which automatically e-mails each new signature to the District 67’s presiding board members. As of Sunday night, there were 78 signatures on the petition including Beacham’s.
“We're disgusted with Superintended Harry Griffith,” said Beacham, a Lake Forest resident. “We're disgusted with the board and their silence at the last meeting, and by starting a petition, it's possible to give other people a voice that they're afraid to use.”
In the letter sent to Wold, Beacham outlined the reasons why Griffith should be fired. (See the attached PDF letter).
- Griffith demonstrated gross negligence and dereliction of duty to the students in his care.
- Griffith was derelict in his duty to the parents of District 67 students, as well as to the teachers and other administrators in the district.
- Griffith lied to parents and the community to cover his tracks.
- Griffith’s actions clearly violate the terms of his employment contract.
- Griffith’s actions also clearly violate his professional code of ethics.
“I think the board should act based on my letter alone,” Beacham answered, when asked how many signatures he feels would validate the petition, “based on [my] signature at the bottom of my letter.”
Beacham’s actions follow the District board meeting Feb. 28 when attorney Ronald Safer gave his summary of an eight-page report, detailing what transpired between the board and Steinert following his arrest and subsequent conviction. Safer did indicate that Griffith did not conduct a thorough investigation of Steinert in 2009 after he was arrested by Gurnee police and subsequently convicted. However, he did not find Griffith or the board were negligent of any wrongdoing or concealment of information.
- See related story: Attorney Takes Questions About Steinert Case From D67 Stakeholders
Beacham said Safer's investigation appeared to focus exclusively on what happened in 2009 “and didn't appear to tell what happened in November 2011, when Dr. Griffith apparently lied to us.”
“It seems slightly lost on Safer that the Griffith statements in 2009 were inconsistent with the statement given (when Safer investigated the board),” he added.
Specifically, in another e-mail sent March 8, Beacham provided a link to a TV interview which included a quote from Griffith on the nature of Steinert's text messages to the college intern. "We didn't know it was sexting; we knew it was telephone harassment. We didn't know it was a sexting issue," Beacham wrote in the e-mail.
Beacham then asks to compare what Griffith said in the video to what Safer's report stated: “On January 27, 2009, then Assistant Superintendent Michael Cyrus interviewed Steinert. He was guided by questions prepared by Phillip Gerner, outside council who specializes in labor law. Steinert admitted that he sent the intern text messages that requested dates and sexual acts. Steinert told Cyrus he sent a message asking if the intern wanted Steinert to perform a specific sexual act.”
Beacham asserted District 67 officials knew that Steinert was "sexting." He said Griffith lied to District 67 parents, teachers and the community at large in an attempt to explain why he didn't suspend or terminate Steinert. Instead, he asked the board to retain him under several conditions, and later expanded his duties and gave him a raise within the next school year.
The meeting in late February wasn't the first time Beacham addressed board members. The father of children who attended District 67 schools also spoke twice at a meeting in November 2011, when he began to connect with other concerned parents.
- See related story: Lake Forest Parent Seeks to Form Coalition to Oust D67 Superintendent
Shortly after Safer gave his report, Beacham seemingly laid down the struggle he and his supporters began in November.
“There's nothing to be done,” he said in a phone interview after the meeting. “The board certainly has shown no interest in removing the superintendent.”
However, Beacham has replanted his footing after the legal option of a mandamus was discovered. A mandamus, by judicial writ, requires public officials to act on an issue when they have failed or neglected to do so.
“It's a total matter of principle,” Beacham clarified. “Griffith is no longer fit to serve if he's lying to the community about what he knew, and what he knew was his total excuse for why he behaved the way he did in 2009.”
Beacham may also pursue through the Illinois State Board of Education the firing of board members Wold, Laurie Rose and Jeff Pinderski, who each served when the Steinert case began. The three members should also be excluded from any vote to fire Griffith, he added, because of their dealings with the Steinert case.
Beacham also made it clear this isn't about Griffith’s paycheck, which makes him the second highest paid superintendent in the state. Nor, out of principle, does he want Griffith to work until he retires June 30.
“I know there are a lot of people in the community who believe Griffith is overpaid,” he continued, “but my outrage at what happened since 2009 has nothing whatsoever to do with that.”