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Officials and lawyers for Riverside Elementary School District 96 have gone to great lengths to try to shut down discussion of the allegations of child sexual abuse reported to police by Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi last year.
Allegations were brought against a part-time Ames School teacher, Susan Battersby, who was separately accused by Lieggi of violating district policies. Ultimately Battersby resigned after the district agreed to pay to her for the rest of the year. Lieggi also reported to Riverside police that members of a Riverside family and her ex-husband, Frank, had sexually abused her daughters.
The Riverside Police Department and investigators from Cook and DuPage counties investigated the matter and declined to bring any charges, saying that they found no evidence of abuse.
This summer Susan Battersby's father, Steven, delivered copies of a 39-page Riverside Police Department report about the investigation to every member of the District 96 Board of Education.
Steve Battersby and Sue Corrigan, a member of the family that Lieggi reported had abused her daughters, tried to talk about the issue at both the August and September meetings of the District 96 Board of Education.
"I know this is a difficult situation," Battersby told the school board on Sept. 18. "Our goal is to bring transparency to this matter and help the board make an informed decision."
At the Sept. 18 school board meeting, Sue Corrigan was gaveled down by attorney Justino Petrarca when she tried to talk about specifics. It is unusual for an attorney to be sitting at the board table during the open portion of a District 96 school board meeting.
It appears that Petrarca, a partner at the law firm Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, and another attorney from the firm, Julie Lewis, were at the meeting, because school officials were concerned that Battersby or Corrigan would bring up the issue.
"I am but one of the people who has been victimized in that Riverside police report that has been given to each of you," Corrigan told the school board. "All of the children in that report were victims, as well as my husband."
At that point Petrarca cut off Corrigan, saying that she has an unresolved grievance filed against the district. Finally, Corrigan was allowed to speak in general terms and she suggested that the district adopt a policy prohibiting district teachers and other staff members to work in a private capacity for district administrators.
In a hallway outside the meeting room, Lewis told Battersby that he was committing a Class A misdemeanor by distributing the police report.
Battersby said that he had been told by Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel that he could do what he wanted with the report, which he had obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act request.
Battersby challenged Lewis to call the Riverside Police Department to have him arrested if she thought he was breaking the law.
In the two weeks after that meeting, both Battersby and Corrigan received letters from the district's law firm or from District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson claiming that they could be violating the law.
Battersby was told that if his desire was to get Lieggi fired that would not happen and that the school board will not consider the issue again.
Weitzel and Riverside Village Attorney Lance Malina say that the police department did nothing wrong by releasing the police report in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
"The reports that were released were all done lawfully under state statute," Weitzel said.
The police reports make reference to some interviews done with Lieggi's daughters.
In June, a lawyer representing Lieggi threatened to sue Riverside resident Mary Lescher for defamation of character after Lescher sent emails to a couple of people about Lieggi's actions.
The lawyer, Mary Rowland of the firm Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick, Dym, Ltd., accused Lescher of defaming Lieggi and demanded that Lescher "immediately cease your defamatory conduct."
Rowland wrote that Lescher had attacked Lieggi's professional conduct and emotional stability. Rowland also accused Lescher of distributing portions of the police report in violation of the Illinois Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act.
"We are confident that legal action by Ms. Lieggi against you would result in an appropriately large jury verdict to compensate her for the emotional distress and other damages your conduct has caused," Rowland wrote.
Two months later, Lescher, whose husband is an attorney, wrote back to Rowland.
Lescher told Rowland that she was not about to be silenced or intimidated. Lescher said that the police report is a matter of public record. She also said she had a right to speak out.
Lescher told Rowland that if she truly believed that she had a legal basis to sue her, she would have already done so.
"If you feel confident that legal action against me would result in an appropriately large jury verdict, I suspect I would have received suit papers already," Lescher wrote. "I understand that, like other residents of this state, you have the right to sue. I'm confident that you have no basis for your legal action. If Lieggi wants an expensive legal battle, I am prepared. She should be equally prepared should it be determined that her suit was baseless."
No suit against Lescher had been filed as the Landmark went to press Tuesday.
Lescher, whose daughters have babysat for Lieggi in the past, says that she feels that Lieggi should not remain as the principal of Ames School.
In late August, Lescher and her husband emailed their concerns about Lieggi to the District 96 school board. They received a response from school board President Mary Ellen Meindl, saying that the school board is not reconsidering the issue.
"The board has fully investigated and discussed the issues that you have raised," Meindl wrote. "The Board of Education is fully satisfied with the results of this investigation and no further action is anticipated or supported by the board."
Meindl told the Landmark that board members have not talked to either Lieggi or Susan Battersby about this situation.