Despite being cleared by a school investigation, a longtime Riverside-Brookfield High physical education teacher did not teach one of his classes for much of the first semester after being accused of sexual harassment by a student.
For the past few months a substitute has been teaching Todd Fridrych’s second-period Wellness class because he apparently has not felt comfortable teaching a class that includes a student who accused him of inappropriately touched her one time earlier this fall. The student declined an offer to be moved out of Fridrych’s class.
“I insisted on it not happening,” said Ariel Elliott, the mother of a student who said Fridrych harassed her.
Fridrych, who has taught at RBHS for 18 years, did not respond to a request for an interview or a comment.
Two students, one of them Elliott’s daughter, reportedly felt Fridrych singled them out early in the semester. Elliott filed a formal complaint to the school on Sept. 15, a day after Elliott and her daughter had met with Principal Hector Freytas, Assistant Principal Kylie Lindquist and Fridrych. A parent advocate, Dr. Karen Collins-Ayanlaja, a professor of Education at Eastern Illinois University, also attended the meeting at Elliott’s request.
Elliott’s complaint alleged that Fridrych had engaged in predatory and unprofessional behavior and that he had sexually harassed her daughter. In an interview with administrators, Elliott’s daughter said Fridrych talked to her in a flirtatious manner and that Fridrych told her to smile more. She also said Fridrych grabbed her arm once and another time took a volleyball that she was holding close to her chest away from her and touched her chest.
Assistant Superintendent Kristin Smetana, the school’s non-discrimination coordinator, led an investigation into the allegations. According to a letter Smetana sent to Elliott on Oct. 6, Smetana interviewed Elliott’s daughter, six other students in the class, Fridrych, two other physical education teachers and Lindquist who had met earlier with Elliott and her daughter.
Smetana concluded that none of the allegations, even if true, rose to the level of sexual harassment. Smetana found that Fridrych never met with Elliott’s daughter outside of class and that he behaved toward her in a way similar to how he behaved towards other students.
“We understand that Mr. Fridrych’s habit of standing close to students or advising them to smile may make students uncomfortable and that will be addressed but none of these allegations rise to actionable conduct,” Smetana wrote in her Oct. 6 letter to Elliott.
Smetana wrote that after one meeting with Elliott and her daughter, the building administration reported the allegations to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services but said that DCFS concluded “the actions reported did not rise to a level of abuse or neglect.”
According to Smetana’s letter, the matter was referred to Freytas to “impose any discipline as needed.”
School board President Deanna Zalas old the Landmark that no discipline against Fridrych has been brought to the school board.
The situation has roiled RBHS for much of the first semester. Many students apparently supported Fridrych and blamed the two girls for causing trouble for him. The home of the other girl who had complained about Fridrych, but whose family did not pursue the matter, was egged on Nov. 19, according to a Riverside police report.
At the same time, fliers supporting Fridrych were posted by unknown people inside the school. Some of the fliers posted at the school in November used language that also injected a racist element into the issue. Elliott’s daughter is Black. The other girl and Fridrych are white.
Sheets of paper including Fridrych’s photo and phrase #Free Todd also included the phrases “Mans ain’t do nothing omm. System keep cheating us. My boy don’t deserve dis.” below the photo.
After the egging incident and the appearance of fliers supporting Fridrych at the school, Freytas sent an email to RBHS parents, students and staff.
“Late last week, it was discovered that a group of RB students had been distributing and posting inappropriate flyers throughout the school without the school’s permission or authorization,” Freytas wrote in an email that he sent on the evening of Nov. 22. “The flyers have also been accompanied by social media posts with a similar message. Postings of any kind without the authorization of the RB administration are strictly prohibited and may result in disciplinary action.”
Freytas went on to say bullying would not be tolerated.
“Additionally, the RB administration takes instances of targeting and bullying very seriously and we will not tolerate actions that threaten or target any if our students for any reason,” Freytas wrote. “Students who engage in behavior that targets of bullies students, either in or out of school, will be held accountable for their actions by the school and possibly our local law enforcement agency.”
Also on Nov. 22, Ariel Elliott had a contentious meeting at the school with Assistant Principal for Student Affairs Dave Mannon. Elliott told Mannon that if students attacked her house she would defend her property. After the meeting Mannon called Brookfield police, who sent two detectives to visit Elliott at her home.
“If anybody were to come on my property, they should know that somebody could get hurt because I will do what it takes to protect my property and my family and that’s a perfectly legal statement,” said Elliott recounting what she told Mannon, according to the police report.
Elliott believes Mannon called the police in an attempt to intimidate her.
“We have a long history with him in particular with a bunch of issues that he’s done at different times to different numbers of my children,” Ariel Elliott said.
During a congenial discussion with police outside her home, according to the police report, the detectives told Elliott they were aware of the egging of her daughter’s friend’s house in Riverside and the situation with the teacher that led up to it.
According to the Brookfield police report, detectives told Elliott that a special watch would be placed upon her house and they encouraged her to call the police if any incidents occurred.
Mannon didn’t return a call from the Landmark asking why he contacted the police after meeting with Elliott on Nov. 22.
Top RBHS officials were not willing to talk to the Landmark about the situation with Fridrych.
“The district will not comment on student or personnel matters,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis in an email.
Elliott was not impressed with the school’s investigation.
“They did not handle it at all,” Elliott said. “I believe they ignored it because the only people complaining was the Black family. The white family didn’t say anything, they were too afraid. They’re the ones who got their house egged.”
Elliott said RBHS has been a hostile place too often for her children, two of whom are RBHS graduates. Elliott made a public comment at the Dec. 14 meeting of the District 208 Board of Education that did not directly address her daughter’s allegations against Fridrych, but referenced the way her children have been treated generally at the high school.
“RBHS for my family has not been Friday Night Lights or a comprehensive fluid experience of normal high school ups and downs,” Elliott told the school board. “It has been a constant dismissal of basic humanity, a disruption in my children’s ability to learn, judgment, lip service, dismissive behavior, lies, torment and the twisting of the truth. My children have learned what suffering is here.
“They must attend RBHS, a place that does not want them and has from our experience actively tried to preclude their very existence. There have been days my children have awakened and are convinced the subtle, and sometimes overt but constant abuse that they have endured and endured here will never leave their consciousness. And not just because of a few awful people or instances but because of your system of loathing the blackness of their skin and your preconceived idea of who they are.”