Friday afternoon the Riverside District 96 school board sent an email to all district parents saying that Ames School principal Colleen Lieggi was informed within 24 hours after an interview with one of Lieggi’s daughters that investigators did not find the girl’s allegations that she had been sexually molested in 2011 by a part time Ames School teacher credible.
As a result, the school board says, students never were at any risk because school officials knew almost immediately that the allegations against the teacher were not deemed credible.
The board based its conclusion on interviews it conducted with Lieggi, District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson and the district’s lawyers.
“DCFS learned of the allegations against the District 96 part-time staff member during a confidential interview of the student as part of a separate investigation,” the email states. “DCFS then notified Ms. Lieggi of the allegations. However, within 24 hours Ms. Lieggi was informed by DCFS that they did not find the student’s allegations to be credible and would not pursue investigation.”
The emails also states that Lieggi informed Lamberson of the matter promptly, as dictated by district policy.
The interview with Lieggi’s daughter was conducted by a trained forensic interviewer employed by the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (CCAC), which is an independent agency that partners with police, prosecutors and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to investigate child abuse.
According to a Riverside police report, observing the interview from outside the interview room was Riverside Detective David Krull and an assistant Cook County State’s Attorney.
There is no mention in the police report of anyone from DCFS being present at the interview. A representative of the CCAC said that she could not comment upon this specific case, but said that the CCAC simply conducts interviews and does not draw conclusions.
“That call would not have come from us,” said Kate Nelson, the director of events and communications or the CCAC. “We would not have reached out to somebody to say that allegations were founded or unfounded. That’s not our position. We just do the interviews.”
It is possible that the CCAC told DCFS about the interview and that DCFS contacted Lieggi.
Lieggi did not respond to an email sent by the Landmark on Monday asking who from DCFS contacted her and how she was notified.
The board did not simply rely upon verbal assurances about the notification to Lieggi, according to Mary Ellen Meindl, the president of the District 96 Board of Education. Meindl told the Landmark on Monday that the board was provided with a timeline and some written evidence, which she said she could not disclose, to support the findings of the school board.
“There was some further evidence supplied at the meetings that cleared our minds completely,” Meindl said.
However school board Vice President Art Perry said that he is not aware of any written evidence.
“I don’t remember ever seeing that particular notification in writing,” Perry said. “Mary Ellen may have seen things that I haven’t seen, since she is school board president.”
A number of parents have expressed concern that the part-time teacher, Susan Battersby, was not removed from her classroom until Sept. 29, 2011, two weeks after the CCAC interview with Lieggi’s daughter.
On Sept. 29, 2011 the district suspended Battersby without pay for what school officials say were reasons unrelated to the allegations of sexual abuse made against her. Ultimately, after first trying to fire Battersby, the district backtracked and Battersby resigned Dec. 13, 2011 after the district agreed to pay her for the remainder of the school year. Battersby also agreed not to sue the district.
The Friday email was the second email sent to parents in six weeks as the board has tried to put the contentious matter behind it.
“We wanted to let our District 96 parents know that we have been working on this and reassure them that our policy was followed and that students were never at risk,” Meindl said.
Lieggi’s daughter was interviewed at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center on Thursday Sept. 15, 2011. By the time Battersby was next scheduled to teach, she had already been cleared, Meindl said.
“She was cleared within 24 hours and she was not in the classroom until the next Tuesday,” Meindl said.
Meindl says that the attempt to fire Battersby, and her ultimate resignation — an event in which Lieggi, District 96 superintendent Jonathan Lamberson and the district’s lawyers played key roles — were unrelated to the allegations of abuse that were made against Battersby.
“There’s no correlation on the things that happened that caused the resignation and this police report,” Meindl said. “I know they are totally separate, because I know why we authorized the resignation. It had nothing to do with the police report.”
Meindl said that she, like other board members, did not know in 2011 when the school board approved Battersby’s separation agreement that allegations of sexual abuse had been made against Battersby.
“I didn’t know,” Meindl said.
Meindl said that since the sexual abuse allegations against Battersby were almost immediately deemed to be not credible, she did not feel that Lamberson had an obligation to tell the school board of them.
School board members were apparently told that Lieggi first learned of her daughter’s allegations against Battersby after the Sept. 15 interview at the CCAC. However, Krull wrote in a police report that Lieggi had met with him at the Riverside police station on Sept. 14, 2011, one day before the previously scheduled interview with Lieggi’s daughter, and Krull wrote that Colleen Lieggi told him of the accusations against Battersby.
“According to what we were told, the first time Susan Battersby’s name came up was after that interview,” Perry said.
Perry was asked if he believed that Lieggi first became aware of her daughters allegations against Susan Battersby after the interview at the Children’s Advocacy Center.
“It’s not about what I believe, it’s about what is presented to me,” Perry said.