A Riverside school principal apparently won’t face any serious consequences for allegedly reporting unfounded accusations against a young teacher that led District 96 officials first to seek the teacher’s termination and then reverse that decision.
The teacher eventually resigned after District 96 agreed to pay her for the remainder of the school year and to pay her lawyer $5,000.
In September of last year Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi went to Riverside police and reported allegations of sexual abuse against Susan Battersby, a part-time teacher of gifted students.
Two weeks later, on Sept. 29, 2011, Lieggi went to Battersby’s classroom and told her she needed to drop everything and go to a meeting at district headquarters. At that time Battersby was suspended without pay after meeting with Lieggi and Tony Scariano, an attorney representing District 96.
On Oct. 6, 2011 District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson sent a letter to Battersby stating that he would recommend that the school board fire her at its October 18 meeting and outlining what he termed her “unprofessional conduct.”
However, the district ultimately dropped its threat to fire Battersby and instead reportedly apologized to her and offered Battersby her job back before settling in December 2011 on an agreement that Battersby would resign but the district would pay her salary for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year and pay her attorney in exchange for a promise from Battersby not to sue the district. Battersby was beginning her third year as a staff member at Ames School in 2011.
Lieggi is in the final year of a three-year contract, which expires on June 30, 2013.
“Her job is in no jeopardy,” said school board President Mary Ellen Meindl.
The Landmark has obtained a copy of both Lamberson’s letter to Battersby and the settlement agreement.
In his letter to Battersby Lamberson laid out four reasons, apparently brought forth by Lieggi, for Battersby’s dismissal. Those allegations included accessing Lieggi’s school district provided laptop computer without her authority, threatening to change the grades of one of Lieggi’s children to keep her out of the district’s gifted program, texting students and taking a key to a gifted program filing cabinet.
A friend of Battersby who is an Ames staff member said that the allegations were mostly trumped up. The staff member, who has talked with Battersby, says that Battersby only texted Lieggi’s daughters because Lieggi had hired her to babysit them. She said that Battersby told her that Lieggi had given her the computer password so that Lieggi’s daughters could play computer games while she was babysitting them. The Ames staff member asked not to be identified because she fears retribution by Lieggi.
On Oct. 18, 2011 the school board met in closed session for almost 40 minutes but took no action that night. By that time Riverside police detective David Krull had interviewed Battersby and apparently concluded that he did not believe that there was any merit to the sexual abuse allegations made against her.
The school board met in closed session again for an hour on Nov. 15 for the purpose of “hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee or against legal counsel for the district to determine its validity,” according to the official minutes for that meeting.
On Dec. 13, the board met again in closed session for more than an hour, after which the school board voted unanimously to approve a “personnel report.”
That “report” was the separation agreement between Battersby and the district. In exchange for Battersby’s promise not to file a lawsuit against the district, it agreed to pay Battersby the remainder of her $17,975 salary through the end of the school year and agreed to pay her attorney $5,000.
In addition, the agreement states that all references to Battersby’s dismissal will be “purged” from her employee file and that Battersby had the right to “embargo” any teaching evaluations in her file.
Further, the agreement states that should anyone ask the district for a reference that the district would only respond with her last rate of pay, a statement that she resigned from the district “to pursue other opportunities” and with “any letter of reference prepared by Dr. Janice Limperis,” who is the principal of Central School and the district’s director of learning and teaching and who oversees the gifted program.
The district paid a substitute teacher $5,000 in 2012 to take over Battersby’s responsibilities at Ames School. It also paid substitutes an undetermined amount to replace Battersby for the final three months of 2011 after she was suspended on Sept. 29. A review of the district’s legal bills indicates that the district spent about $4,255 in legal fees for its lawyers work on the matter.
School officials have steadfastly refused to talk about the situation.
Lamberson refused to comment when asked a series of questions about what happened to Battersby and about the reasons behind the settlement agreement. He refused to say whether he had offered Battersby her job at Ames back, offered her a job at Hauser or whether he had personally apologized to her. Two sources have told the Landmark that those three things occurred.
The Landmark could not reach Susan Battersby for comment. The Landmark requested through her lawyer, Bruce Rose, and her father to talk to Susan Battersby, but never heard from her.
Steve Battersby said that his daughter didn’t want to rehash what was a traumatic experience for her. She is currently working in a warehouse distribution center and is not teaching.
Rose declined to discuss the settlement or the events leading up to it with the Landmark.
School board members have also all declined to talk about the agreement and the Battersby situation in any detail, saying that it was a personnel issue.
“That was between the teacher, the union, and the administration,” school board member David Kodama said. “What was communicated to us as a board was that all parties agreed upon that, so we had no reason to question the parties involved in determining whether that was an appropriate result.”
Meindl refused to answer specific questions about Lieggi and Battersby, except to say that Battersby resigned.
“I am not at liberty to discuss what we discussed in closed session when it pertains to personnel matters, because every person deserves to have their privacy protected,” Meindl said. “My concern is if any of this is a personnel issue relating to District 96 and, no, it is not.”
School officials also would not respond to questions about the allegations Lieggi reported to Riverside police against Battersby just 15 days before she was suspended without pay.
Moreover, only one school board member has said that he has read the 39-page Riverside police reports detailing the department’s investigation into the allegations. The police report hand delivered last month to all seven board members by Steve Battersby and Sue Corrigan, a member of a Riverside family also accused of sexual abuse in the case.
Meindl told the Landmark she has received the police report three times, but has never read it, because the district’s law firm has advised her that it would be illegal to do so.
“I have received that police report on three different occasions, and all three times I delivered that police report to the district office to be shredded,” said Meindl. “I have not read it. According to our attorney, to be in possession of a police report is a Class A misdemeanor when it pertains to a child abuse situation.”
Don Craven, the attorney for the Landmark, said it is not a crime to be in possession of a lawfully released police report. Steve Battersby obtained the police report by filing a Freedom of Information request with the Riverside Police Department.
Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel said that his department followed the law in releasing the report to Battersby.
In the police report, Lieggi reported separate accusations that Battersby and that members of the Corrigan family sexually abused her children. Law enforcement authorities also investigated accusations that Lieggi’s ex-husband Frank abused his children. Riverside police first began to investigate the claims in June 2011, but Battersby’s name doesn’t surface until Sept. 14, 2011 when Lieggi came to the Riverside police station for an interview.
Colleen Lieggi did not agree to be interviewed by the Landmark for this story. She also did not answer 22 specific questions the Landmark submitted to her by email. She did respond with an email stating she did not make any accusations. Rather, she said, was doing her duty as a mandated reporter of child abuse.
“I never made any ‘allegations’ or ‘accusations’ against any of the adults named in the report,” Lieggi wrote. “Rather, I reported to the Department of Children and Family Services precisely what my child reported to me. The investigator directed me to go to the village of Riverside Police Department and file a police report. As a school administrator, let alone a mother of young children, I was required to report the information. I am a mandated reporter of such information under Illinois law. I had no choice legally – or morally – [but] to report what I was told.”
Mandated reporters, including school personnel, are obligated to call the DCFS child abuse hotline whenever they have reason to believe that child abuse is occurring.
Jimmie Whitelow, a spokesman for DCFS, said that he could not comment on this specific case, because no charges were filed, but said that DCFS investigators only meet with people in person and that, as a general rule, DCFS tells callers to its child abuse hotline to call the police only if they suspect that a child is in imminent danger.
The police report states that Lieggi told police that she had hired Battersby, who worked as a part-time gifted teacher at Ames, to babysit her children.
In late August of 2011, just before the school year began, Battersby, while babysitting at Lieggi’s home, gave one of Lieggi’s children a test used to help determine whether a student should be admitted into a gifted math class at Hauser Junior High School, according to Steve Battersby and an Ames staff member.
Lieggi’s daughter apparently struggled with the test and Battersby told Lieggi that she would not recommend the girl for the gifted math class, according to Steve Battersby and the Ames staff member.
On Sept. 14, just a couple of weeks after Battersby reportedly recommended against Lieggi’s daughter being admitted to the gifted program, Lieggi called police to talk “about some new information” related to her prior allegations of sexual abuse against her ex-husband and the Corrigans.
Lieggi was interviewed by Riverside Police Detective Sgt. David Krull on Sept.14, 2011.
In the police report, Krull wrote that after telling Lieggi that he would interview Battersby and Lieggi’s ex-husband, he advised Lieggi to speak to her superintendent and advise him of the situation. Lieggi reportedly said that she would do that.
Krull declined to speak about the case with the Landmark.
“I’m not supposed to make any comments about this,” Krull said.
The daughter that Lieggi said Battersby had abused was interviewed at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center the day after Lieggi had been interviewed by Krull. A Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney and Krull witnessed the child’s interview.
Riverside police had begun their investigation in June 2011 after being contacted by the DuPage County State’s Attorney. It was in DuPage County where Lieggi initially reported allegations against her ex-husband, Frank, and the Corrigans. At that time, no allegations were made against Battersby.
The Corrigans have filed an official complaint to District 96 under the district’s uniform grievance procedure. They allege that Lieggi’s actions were retaliation against them because of their advocacy of their special needs children, and because of a June 2011 incident in which their son tried to break into Ames School to use the bathroom.
“I feel this whole thing with Colleen is an act of retaliation,” Sue Corrigan said. “Colleen targets people she doesn’t like.”
The grievance is being actively investigated by a district lawyer, who will file a report of her findings to Lamberson once her investigation is complete.
According to the Riverside police report, the allegations were investigated by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and DCFS.
On Oct. 24, 2011, the DuPage County State’s Attorney told Riverside police that they were not pursuing any charges against Frank Lieggi.
Pat Dempsey, the head of the DuPage County Children’s Center which investigates claims of child sexual abuse told the Landmark that the allegations against Frank Lieggi were taken seriously.
“They were thoroughly investigated,” Dempsey said. “They were screened with our state’s attorney’s office and there was nothing.”
The police report says that Riverside police received a letter from DCFS stating that the allegations against Frank Lieggi were determined to be “unfounded.” The police report also states that Frank Lieggi passed without any problem a lie detector test administered by the Illinois State Police.
Krull interviewed Robert Corrigan on Oct. 7, 2011. According to the police report, he told Krull that he did not know Frank Lieggi or Susan Battersby, and Corrigan provided proof to Krull that his family was out of town on vacation when an incident of abuse purportedly occurred in 2009.
In Riverside’s police report, Krull mentions “concerns” he had about conflicting accounts of the allegations and particularly about a request by Lieggi on Sept. 29 – the very day Battersby was suspended – that police show her daughter a photo of “the other family involved just to confirm that’s who it is.”
Krull notes in his report that the request “raises the following question of why would [redacted] need to see a photo of the Corrigan’s (sic) to confirm who they are?”
“She positively said it was the Corrigan’s (sic) during both VSI’s [Victim Sensitive Interviews] and now there is a possibility that it was not the Corrigan’s (sic) who were involved in this incident, even though she names all the Corrigan’s (sic) that were present during the incident,” Krull wrote.
Krull interviewed Susan Battersby in the presence of her lawyer on Oct. 5, 2011. Krull wrote in the police report that it was his “opinion that Susan was not involved in any type of sexual assault/abuse of [redacted] Lieggi and that there is no physical evidence that Susan was involved in this incident at all.” He further wrote that “Susan is not a suspect in this investigation and no charges are being filed against her.”
Subsequently, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office concluded there was no evidence to pursue charges against Battersby, the Corrigan family or Frank Lieggi. Colleen Lieggi remains principal of Ames School. District 96 school board members say that they are not about to take any action against her.
“Unless there is new information brought to my attention I don’t see any next step right now,” said Kodama, the only school board member who says that he has read the police report.
Meindl said that board has considered the matter and is done with it.
“My interest is in our school district and that is a personal matter, not a personnel matter,” Meindl said.