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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, 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 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.

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 student, who was an intern with the . 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.

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."

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."

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."

Moving Forward

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.

mary ritter November 22, 2011 at 10:39 PM
@ Chris, I do not know the authority of the State Bd of Education.
Klavsons November 23, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Keep in mind folks, and I quote Griffith last night as he described his actions or inaction, "we should have known better". That is a clear admission he should have handled this situation differently. Additionally, the police report clearly states that the cell phone with the photos was returned to Griffiths office. He never investigated further, never looked at the phone, took Steinerts twisted account of the incident as fact and reinstated a criminal as our principal. He needs to resign as any CEO would in this case.
Hmmmm6 November 23, 2011 at 01:45 AM
Regarding the Tribune. Consider this. Last year, it was revealed that the CEO of the Tribune had for years engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace. How many members of the Tribune Board resigned? Zero Today the Trib reported that they settled with the guy for more than $600,000. Recently, a federal bankruptcy court refused to confirm to Tribune's bankruptcy plan due to possible fraudulent conduct? How many Tribune Board members resigned? Zero I believe that a Lake Forest resident is a member of the Tribune editorial board? Did he deliberate? Has he ever had a bad experience with Harry or the board members? Don't know, because the Tribune didn't bother to tell us a Lake Forest member is on their editorial board or that he recused himself. The Tribune wrote this editorial the day after the Super committee failed to do anything, Europe is tanking and we are at war. No wonder they are in bankruptcy. The Trib called for resignations when they should have asked for a careful review of the facts so that the future board and the future superintendent can understand what happened and how it happened and change.
Klavsons November 23, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Oh, and by the way, we are very active in the school, the fundraisers, team mom, coach, and booster club. So Marco and Shirley, we are volunteers, be careful about what you say. You might want to review the facts more closely before you pick a side.
Really? November 23, 2011 at 02:04 AM
@Hmmm6: Excellent information to know. Thank you. This raises even more questions. How does this play into the Tribune "scoop"? Why WOULD they rush to judgment so quickly rather than encourage an investigation? Is there truly a vendetta against Dr. Griffith and our BOE? This train needs to slooowwwww down.....
Klavsons November 23, 2011 at 03:26 AM
What's your point? Get the facts.
Klavsons November 23, 2011 at 03:36 AM
Just to be clear about the facts, Griffith had no intention to investigate further or have their actions reviewed by independent council until it was requested by the parents.
I.M. Weasel November 23, 2011 at 04:10 AM
@Marco - Do you have any idea how much we volunteer already? If you did, you would have seen many of us at the various APT and Spirit of 67 events. We are not armchair quarterbacks, we are active participants.
I.M. Weasel November 23, 2011 at 04:14 AM
@Klavsons - Requested??? We nearly had to resort to physical action before it was agreed. Remember they thought that this could be satisfied with some panel where they would hand pick the members.
Really? November 23, 2011 at 04:55 AM
My point? Go back and read your post.
Klavsons November 23, 2011 at 04:59 AM
Good point. I think one of the issues is that Wood and or the state BoE will fall short of finding gross negligence...that's tough to do and from what I read, it's the only way they can remove him or our BoE.
LFMom November 23, 2011 at 07:37 AM
Rather than speculate that a small disgruntled group has a vendetta against Griffith and/or the BOE so they submitted the FOIA for the police report and then turned it over to the Tribune, why don't you submit a FOIA on the original FOIA to identify who leaked the police report to the Tribune? If this Steinert incident was kept so quiet, how would any parent(s) know about it? More likely a school insider decided to blow the whistle on Harry and the BOE's wrong doing. Perhaps they too felt that Steinert should have been fired and not been given a subsequent raise. Although I doubt they would risk their job by submitting a FOIA so they probably told someone else who did it. In the end, it's irrelevant how the Tribune found out. Wrong is wrong and the lesson here is accountability. Could've, should've, would've, doesn't cut it. We just agree to disagree on this.
I.M. Weasel November 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM
Gross negligence is a high bar but consider these facts: - Griffith made a decision based upon a heavily redacted police report; - There was no attempt to appeal the redaction via the procedure noted in the FOIA; - He withheld information from his outside counsel (we are told that counsel never saw the police report); - Even without the report, outside counsel advised that the offence was sufficient for termination; - The word of a person who had just plead guilty to a criminal offence and was trying to preserve his job was accepted over advice of counsel; - There is a denial of ever receiving the phone from the police even though the police have stated the exact date and time of its return; - The criminal conviction of a principal (a matter of public record) was hushed. There is no mention of this matter in any Board meeting minutes; and - A person's whose conviction would normally eliminate him from being hired was promoted soon after his his conviction. One of these is a mistake. Two of them are negligent. The full package (pun intended) amounts to a pattern that can only be described as grossly negligent.
Interested November 23, 2011 at 01:11 PM
When the regional office investigates, I would like to know if Assistant Superintendent Gary Pickens, formerly known as Lake Forest High School Technology Director, will be on the panel or not. http://www.lake.k12.il.us/roe_supt/index.htm
Laura November 23, 2011 at 01:19 PM
In most industries, viewing porn on the job or through company owned equipment calls for immediate termination. Sending porn, (that would be what texting your own genitalia via the school phone was) and repeated harassment of another, would also be grounds for immediate dismissal. His "sexting" amounted to sexual harassment in the workplace. Helloooo. again, dismissal. Apparently Harry Griffith run the schools to a different standard. Harry's behavior would also be grounds for termination. He failed to follow basic protocol, covering up for a friend. His use of the excuse, "we didn't know" is laughable at best. IT'S YOUR JOB TO KNOW HARRY. You also had/have a very competent and shrewd lawyer on the Board. There is no way I will believe that she didn't know the legality of the situation. At least the principal did the right thing by resigning. Harry and the 3 Board members should do the right thing and resign as well. Do we really want any of them having any input on hiring the next Superintendent?
I.M. Weasel November 23, 2011 at 01:36 PM
@Shirley - I read all of Klavsons comments and for the life of me I can't figure out where you came up with the idea that there was a threat. You seem to have a lot of conspiracy theories spinning around in that noggin of yours.
James Rittner November 23, 2011 at 02:28 PM
This bashing of the Tribune is amusing. Forget the message, let's hit the messenger. If someone is shouting on the street that the town hall is on fire, it doesn't matter if that person is the most upstanding community member or the town drunk. If he's correct, then the fire needs to be put out. On an unrelated note...I wonder if Dr. Griffith would have proceeded differently if the sexter was a teacher who caused a lot of union problems and was a general pain in the rear. It's hard to not believe that this Principal was given a pass because of who he was. THAT is the real issue here, I think.
EK November 23, 2011 at 02:48 PM
You forgot to add the violations of District 67's own code/rules- including the ethics code! Funny how our kids have to follow the rules and school codes which they make each parent so aware of, but the "leadership" doesn't have to?!?!
Really? November 23, 2011 at 03:05 PM
@James: My point isn't to "forget the message". The message is indeed of the utmost importance and demands attention. However, to hold-up the Tribune as a beacon for all to hang on to their opinion is troubling. I, and "hmmm6" (?) were merely pointing out troubling aspects in what we see as their rush to judgment. On another note: what I personally find not "amusing" but extremely troubling, is the lack of respect for MY opinion/viewpoint or ability to have a civil discussion here. As you go back and read my posts, I have never attacked anyone personally or called names. But, I have been insulted & threatened. I certainly find the lack of ability for civil discourse quite disturbing. This town certainly has changed - I've watched it over my 23 years...
Really? November 23, 2011 at 03:08 PM
@James: Jim has deleted some of the posts...
Pat Lyon November 23, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Shirley, what you have done is call out people by name (e.g., Gary, the Klavsons) and in this public forum, try to shame them for voicing their opinions, which are contrary to yours. I have been following this discussion very carefully and I have yet to see a comment that threatened you. Those of us who believe this situation warrants a thorough and objective investigation cannot change your opinion nor can you change ours.
Laura November 23, 2011 at 04:15 PM
@shirley, I have lived here for 51 years, and yes this town has changed. It was different before you moved here 23 years ago as well. What hasn't changed, is that the members of the community care deeply about their town. They may not all agree, but each comes to the table with legitimate concerns. There are, and have been concerns about the motives of Harry Griffith, and his methods over the years. To say that there is a small "witch hunt" out for him is silly. He has been here long enough to have angered, annoyed etc people. Perhaps it isn't a "witch hunt", as much as exposing Harry's faults. It still begs the question, do you want the legacy Board members involved in the hiring process of a new Superintendent? I would prefer that they not be involved given the circumstances.
I.M. Weasel November 23, 2011 at 04:39 PM
A message to John Steinert. John, I want you to know that there are people in this community who genuinely feel sorry for you. Not in a condescending way but with sincere empathy. While we cannot comprehend what you did, there is still no malice felt toward you. I also applaud that you were brave and when confronted with the facts, you chose to step down and preserve your honor. We all wish that you had never done what you admitted. However, we are all unable to turn back the clock. Thank you for accepting accountability and facing the consequences like an adult. Please know that our hearts ache for your wife and children. They did nothing and they do not deserve any scorn or ridicule. Anyone who might say or act otherwise should be ashamed of themselves. For the sake of your family, I hope that you are soon able to close this matter and to move on with your lives. None of the anger that is being shown toward the Board of Education or Harry Griffith is directed toward you. You did wrong and you have paid dearly for it. Now is the time for them to show that they have honor at least equal to yours.
Pat Lyon November 23, 2011 at 05:13 PM
Well said. I share your sentiments. Thank you.
Laura November 23, 2011 at 05:16 PM
Agreed. Well said.
Really? November 23, 2011 at 05:35 PM
@Chris: I've done nothing to shame anyone - on the contrary I am among the lone voices here maintaining that we proceed with caution. I have been "threatened" by the Klavsons (the post was deleted; as if they thought I had children in the schools and they could use their positions of influence over the kids). I have been called names here within the posts. And, yes, I did call out Gary. He should have been since he does have a political interest (his PAC). If we are talking here about full disclosure, then it should apply to all. I have been respectful of others' opinions. I cannot say the same for some. We disagree on some aspects of this, but not all.
Really? November 23, 2011 at 05:44 PM
@Laura: Then we both agree in the diminishing lack of civility, I assume? I do think that this community cares deeply about this town, including our Board members. Laura, there is not a school district around that does not deal with controversy over how it is run. Yes, Dr. Griffith is/has been controversial, and I will agree, arrogant. But, that does not disqualify him as a good CEO (in fact, probably qualifies him :-). I maintain that a full investigation needs to proceed. Until that time, the jury is out.
Stones November 23, 2011 at 06:36 PM
.
LFMom November 24, 2011 at 12:13 AM
Ditto!
LFMom November 24, 2011 at 12:14 AM
Here's an interview with the Tribune reporter. http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2011/11/22/lake-forest-sexting-scandal

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