U.S. Department of Education and the FBI both launched investigations into the conduct of a LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 school board member this spring, but eventually found the elected official did nothing illegal.
Questions regarding whether school board member Ed Campbell, a Brookfield resident recently elected to a second term, improperly used school district resources to launch a private business that conducted COVID-19 saliva testing for school districts across the Chicago area had been percolating for some time before the investigations were launched.
They boiled over in March, when school board member Bessie Boyd publicly accused Campbell of acting unethically to further his own private company, Safeguard Screening LLC. At the March 18 school board meeting, Boyd read a prepared statement in which she alleged Campbell used District 102 data and resources to market and launch his company.
In August 2020, Campbell, who is professor of immunology at Loyola Medical Center, played the major role in creating a District 102 saliva screening program to test for presence of the novel coronavirus.
Campbell set up a lab in the district’s science center to test saliva samples taken from District 102 students and staff. Subsequently, District 102 contracted with Riverside Elementary School District 96 and LaGrange District 105 to test saliva samples.
On Sept. 14, 2020, Campbell formally incorporated a company that he co-owns with a couple of high school classmates to do the same saliva testing for other school districts.
They created a separate lab on Ogden Avenue in Brookfield, but Campbell did not formally notify other board members that he had created a private, for-profit saliva testing company until Oct. 29.
Some board members and others felt that Campbell misled them about his intentions to form a private company and questioned why he waited six weeks to inform them that he had created a private company to perform saliva testing for other districts.
Campbell said that he did not mean to mislead anyone.
“I think it was simply a matter of convenience and how busy it was,” Campbell told the Landmark in a telephone interview. “I don’t think I was under any actual obligation to inform the board.”
District 102’s lab and testing program, as well as Campbell, received a lot of publicity last fall, including from National Public Radio and the New York Times.
Other school districts were calling District 102 to find out more about the saliva testing and inquiring whether they could have their students be part of the testing regime or how to have their own students tested.
Many of those districts were told to talk to Campbell. Some have said that Superintendent Kyle Schumacher and the school district’s head nurse Kelli Kalata referred those districts to Campbell. Schumacher said he did nothing wrong.
“If they called Kelli or I, we were sharing with them the protocols of what we were doing,” Schumacher said.
Not surprisingly, Campbell also feels that Schumacher and Kalata acted appropriately.
“I can’t imagine why it’s inappropriate for them to let them know that I was the one who was responsible for setting up the program [in District 102],” Campbell said. “And when those people contacted me, I can’t imagine what’s wrong with trying to find a way to help them, which is what I did.”
The FBI and the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Education got involved when someone alleged that Campbell had used $700,000 in District 102 resources to help Safeguard.
In April, Campbell was interviewed for about a half hour at a Starbucks in Forest Park by an FBI agent and a special agent from the Department of Education Inspector General’s Office. Campbell said he went to the interview alone without a lawyer because he had nothing to hide. He said that it was soon apparent to the agents that he had done nothing wrong.
“It was amusing,” Campbell said. “The individuals were very professional and almost apologetic. I think they knew that they had received a report that was completely inaccurate, and they were just following up doing their jobs and I think they felt bad that the investigation was occurring and realized that its nature was more political than legal.”
On May 28 Special Agent Jason Burt of the Department of Education emailed Campbell to tell him the investigation was complete.
“Our investigation into the allegations involving Safeguard is closed,” Burt wrote, according to a copy of the email Campbell provided to the Landmark. “We found no evidence of wrongdoing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has closed the matter as well.”
District 102’s own lawyer also investigated and on May 27 released a 10-page report that found no wrongdoing by Campbell. That report is posted on the school district’s website at tinyurl.com/c2vwraa9.
“I have found no evidence of wrong-doing or other concern that would warrant further investigation,” said the report written by attorney Darcy Kriha of the Kriha Boucek law firm.
Campbell believes that the allegations against him were political in nature. Boyd’s statement came at a board meeting a week after a long, contentious and emotional board meeting in which Campbell was one of four members who voted not to resume full day, in-person school for the rest of the school year.
School board member Brian Anderson strongly favored a return as did Boyd, who favored the recommendation of Superintendent Kyle Schumacher to return students to classrooms full time. The meeting was also just a few weeks before a school board election in which Campbell was running for re-election.
“I think the bad blood created by that particular vote made people desirous of impacting the election the way they tried to impact it,” Campbell said.
Campbell was the leading vote getter in the school board election in which four candidates ran for three seats.
Safeguard Surveillance, which last year had contracts to do saliva testing with 30 to 40 school districts is winding down. The state has made tests by the company’s leading competitor, the University of Illinois-backed Shield, free to school districts for the upcoming school year, leaving Safeguard with only a handful of private school clients.
“I don’t think the future [of Safeguard] is indefinitely bright,” Campbell said. “Certainly, I think the period when we were needed the most in our community and the surrounding area is over, but we’ll be here until people [don’t] need us, and then I will be quite happy to walk off into the sunset and worry about other things. It’s not a glorious business dealing with that much saliva and it was really done for the goals of public safety and service.”
Campbell declined to say how much money the company had made during its brief run.