Few questions, fewer answers at District 96 meeting

Residents, teachers pack meeting; all but one remain silent

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

A standing-room only crowd of about 50 people crammed into the Hauser Junior High School library on Nov. 27 for the meeting of the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education.

But if the unusually large crowd was expecting to hear any discussion or much public comment about Colleen Lieggi, the principal of Ames School, they left without hearing much.

In 2011, as reported by the Landmark in October, Lieggi reported allegations of child sexual abuse against a part-time Ames School teacher, her former husband and a family in Riverside.

An investigation by the Riverside Police department found no evidence to support the allegations against the teacher or any of the individuals Lieggi had mentioned. After first moving to fire the teacher, District 96's administration backed off and the teacher ultimately resigned after the district agreed to pay her for the rest of year. The teacher also agreed not to sue the district.

Before opening the public comment portion of the meeting on Nov. 27, board President Mary Ellen Meindl took the unusual step of making a statement, apparently wanted to preempt a detailed discussion of the situation.

"The board neither individually or as board will tolerate personal attacks on students or staff or rude presentations from members of the public in its obligation to communicate with the public," Meindl said. "Please note that if you have a question or concern regarding a specific individual, the appropriate correspondence is an email or a letter to the Board of Education so we can carefully review you question or concern and respond accordingly."

Joanne Rogers, the mother of a former Ames student, made the only public comment. She asked for the district's policy on removing teachers from the classroom when a teacher is alleged to have committed child abuse.

Rogers asked if the district had a policy of immediately removing teachers from the classroom after they had been accused of child abuse. Left unspoken, but lurking right below the surface in her question is that the former Ames teacher wasn't removed from the classroom until two weeks after Lieggi reported the allegation to the police.

Many have wondered why, if Lieggi truly believed the teacher committed child abuse, did it take two weeks to remove her from Ames School.

District officials maintain that the attempt to fire the teacher had nothing to do with the police report or allegations of child abuse.

District 96 Superintendent Jonathon Lamberson told Rogers that district policy authorizes him to immediately suspend a teacher with pay in such a case, pending board action.

Rogers then asked why that policy wasn't followed in this case.

"We're not going to respond to that right now," Meindl said.

And, with that, the public comment period ended. Meindl asked if there were any further comments, and there were none.

Meindl said she made her remarks about public comment to make sure that people knew how best to get answers from the board.

"It was the first board meeting after the Landmark article," Meindl said. "I wanted to make sure people understood what is the best way to communicate with the board to get feedback. It's not a dialogue with the public, and it won't ever be. There's proper channels to go through if you have questions or concerns and you would like to have them answered."

Late at night the board met for slightly over two hours in closed session with district attorneys Tony Scariano and Julie Lewis and Lamberson. After the attorneys and Lamberson left, the school board talked among themselves in closed session for another half hour until adjourning at about 1 a.m.

Meindl confirmed that one matter discussed during closed session was the grievance against the district filed by the Riverside family also accused of abusing Lieggi's children. Police found no evidence to support that allegation and found that the family was out of town when one incident of alleged abuse occurred.

About 12 Ames teachers, more than half the Ames faculty, attended part of the open portion of the meeting.

"It's a very difficult situation for Ms. Lieggi and I was pleased that so many of her staff and the parents showed up to support her," Meindl said.

Rogers said in an interview that she was disappointed in the teachers who turned out to support Lieggi and suggested that the presence of so many teachers could have been intimidating to some parents.

"To be frank, if I had a child at Ames, I probably wouldn't be speaking up," Rogers said.

But an Ames parent said that she did not find the presence of the teachers intimidating.

"I did notice that several Ames teachers had attended the meeting," said Cristin Evans in an email. "I assumed they were there to support Principal Lieggi, but I didn't feel they were there to discourage or intimidate anyone who might've wanted to speak.

"I've worked with many of them as an Ames parent and they really are very reasonable, thoughtful people. So I think the bottom line is if you want to take a stand on a particular issue, you really need to get up and do it."

Parents of Ames students appear split, with some supporting Lieggi and others critical of her. Many are still uncertain about what really happened last year.

Some parents are putting their trust in the board.

"I don't have all the facts," said Jim Raffensperger, the parent of an Ames fourth-grader. "I think there are people who have access to all those facts. I don't know the whole situation and I think it's a delicate situation that involves her kids and I believe the board has made a decision and I think the board is going to stand by that decision."

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Joanne Rogers  

Posted: December 15th, 2012 6:20 PM

The next district meeting is on Tuesday, December 18. Please attend and please speak up. They can only get away with not giving us answers if we let them. Thanks.

Not a Fan  

Posted: December 15th, 2012 4:49 PM

I would like to say that I am a parent of a child at Ames and did not attend the meeting in support of Ms. Lieggi. What an arrogant assumption. I can only speak for myself, but I was there for some answers. Not to listen to the board bully people into not talking. We want and deserve answers!

Concerned Citizen  

Posted: December 12th, 2012 10:04 PM

What a bizarre situation. What I don't understand is if Ms. Lieggi filed a false police report and lied to police regarding alleged child molestation, why hasn't she been arrested? As far as I know, what she allegedly did is illegal and of course, unethical, to say the least. It certainly sounds from what has been reported that Ms. Lieggi did not tell the truth.

How would she know?  

Posted: December 11th, 2012 11:33 AM

How would Mary Ellen Meindl know who was there to support Mrs. Lieggi or not? Did she poll the community members there? Totally clueless statement. This woman is in over her head.

Really Mary Ellen?  

Posted: December 11th, 2012 11:13 AM

"It's a very difficult situation for Ms. Lieggi and I was pleased that so many of her staff and the parents showed up to support her," Meindl said. I bet you wouldn't be saying this if you read the police report. Sick and disturbing is all I can say.

Stay Focused  

Posted: December 11th, 2012 9:05 AM

Ms. Lieggi is a disturbed woman who clearly raised the suspicions of the police. But if change is actually wanted, and not just online trashing of Ms. Lieggi and Dr. Lamberson (and Ms. Meindl), focus on that 2-week span between when the teacher's name was added to the list of alleged abusers and when she was pulled out of the classroom. Lamberson and Lieggi should be fired for that, and the Board as a whole should be ashamed about their lack of concern...and then voted out.

I read it too  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 9:30 PM

My point is that it appears very clear, if you read the report, that Lieggi was using her position as principal (and her children as pawns) to execute a personal vendetta against a teacher. I can't believe Lieggi is still principal, Lamberson is still superintendent and Meindl is still board chairperson. What were the teachers at that meeting thinking?

You're kidding, right?  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 8:16 PM

After reading the police report, the only question you have is whether or not the girls were in the gifted program? The accusations were sickening and the coaching that the girls got in order to make those accusations defies all logic and human decency. It truly is the work of a sick woman - who just happens to be in charge of one of our schools. Thank you Meindl and Lamberson.

I read it too  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 7:40 PM

I find it very interesting that Lieggi mentions the teacher's supposed "threat" to keep one of the girls out of the gifted program in the report. Would this be your top concern if you thought your child had been abused? Does anyone know whether either Lieggi girl was in the gifted program? I thought the report was very sad. It seems clear that these girls were caught in the middle of their parents' bitter divorce.

I read the police report  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 5:46 PM

It is the most disturbing thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. My heart goes out to the Lieggi girls. No one should ever be exposed to the psychological trauma that they were forced to endure. This is a 96 issue. The trauma and abuse that this woman has exposed her own children to, if true, is a crime. Please read the report and ask yourself if this is someone you want educating our children. Chris Robling has been disseminating copies of the report. Send him an email request.

Follow the Leader!  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 12:28 PM

"...but I want to be sure I've completely educated myself on the issue before addressing the Board." Atta' girl Joanne. I admire your requirement to fully know the facts and your determination to get involved. You're setting a good example for others. Thank you.

Information Wanted to Joanne Rogers  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 11:37 AM

Thank you, Joanne. That's all I needed.....wasn't sure if it was an on-line request type of thing, or if one would have to make a trip to the County records dept., etc. Yes, I've heard it's disturbing as well, but I want to be sure I've completely educated myself on the issue before addressing the Board.

Joanne Rogers  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 11:26 AM

To Information Wanted: I don't have a copy of the police report myself, nor am I interested in seeing one, but I'm sure if you went to the Riverside Police station and asked them, they'd help you. You will have to fill out a freedom of information act report. I personally do not believe that one needs to read the police report to question the principal's behavior. But I have heard that it is very disturbing.

Information Wanted to "Really?" and "Police Reports Available from Riverside"  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 11:01 AM

Apparently you two have too much time on your hands that you would answer a legitimate question with such sarcasm. Or maybe you've had to request your own in the past so you have lots of experience with the process. Unless you have something helpful to add, don't bother.

Police Reports Available from riverside  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 9:09 AM

I heard there's an abundance of police reports in the shredder in Lamberson's office. Just ask Meindl.......via email or in writing of course.

Really?  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 8:17 AM

Hmm where to get a police report...a real head scratcher. Have you tried your local grocer? Your dry cleaner? The zoo?

Information Wanted  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 1:40 AM

Where does one go to obtain a copy of the police report?

Chumwhere Over the Rainbow!  

Posted: December 9th, 2012 6:57 AM

Chummy? You mean like chum? Bait consisting of chopped fish and fish oils that are dumped overboard to attract and lure fish into danger so they can be trapped, killed, or merely fired.

Favoritism at Ames from Riverside  

Posted: December 9th, 2012 2:50 AM

Favoritism should not be shown to certain children because of who their parents are. Yet year after year at Ames, the same kids get the most sought-after teachers. Their parents happen to be chummy with Lieggi. Now it appears that Lieggi thought she could sidestep the rules to get her own child into a gifted program. So much for fairness, equal opportunity, and a level playing field. Isn't this a serious problem, School Board?

Concerned Community Member  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 9:58 PM

Anyone who is writing these comments--please consider an e-mail to the board. Meindl can't keep living in her little bubble about all of Colleen's "supporters" if you tell her otherwise.

To: Quest Prep  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 9:58 PM

Is this true? I have no reason to doubt you, just so you know. I've had a couple of dealings with Colleen and in my opinion, she is dangerous. She should not be principal at any school, let alone in Riverside. Why isn't she facing criminal charges for slander or libel? Where is the outrage?

Quest prep from Riverside  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 9:31 PM

Word has it that there is more to the Battersby story. Colleen hired Battersby to tutor her child and prep her for the Quest program at Hauser. However, she chose an unethical path. Colleen provided answers to the tests that her daughter was to take to be accepted into Quest. Battersby chose the ethical path and reported this to the board. Upon learning this - Colleen chose another unethical path and chose to ruin this teacher with unfounded accusations of terrible things. Shame on you Colleen.

Lieggi has to go from Riverside  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 7:13 PM

We are concerned about the safety of our child and the other children in Lieggi's care. Her actions indicate a terrible lack of judgment, to say the least. We don't trust her to make decisions that impact our child's well-being, safety, and education. We don't feel comfortable knowing that she is near our child seven hours a day.

Sue and Rob Corrigan  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 12:53 PM

As adults accused by Ms Lieggi, we want to be clear on the facts. She accused her husband, our entire family and (3 months later) a young teacher of heinous crimes. She used her position of power as Principal to hurt innocent people. She attempted to send us to prison--to destroy lives, families and careers. Fortunately, the RS police investigated & found the obvious truth. Dist 96 Board & lawyers do not care about the Truth. This can happen again. They should resign so we all can start over.

I read the police report  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 11:50 AM

Jim Raffensperger--You should read the report, too, so that you will have all the facts.

I read the police report  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 11:48 AM

Colleen Lieggi should be removed for what she did as reported in the police report. Lamberson should be fired without pay or pension for his allowing Lieggi to stay as principal of a school, for what she did to not only her children, but to the residents of the district. The school board members should resign how they have abdicated their responsibilities to the children, the parents, and taxpayers who had faith in them to do the right thing.

You know why  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 10:15 AM

Colleen knew there was no actual threat, hence no push for immediate removal.

to: district 96 alumni  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 7:52 AM

And is that why the board refuses to answer any questions, whether submitted in writing or not? Is that why they won't say why they they didn't follow their policy of immediate removal? NOT following policy carries much more legal liability than FOLLOWING policy. This principal, superintendent and board left a teacher accused of sexual abuse of a child in the classroom for TWO WEEKS after the allegations were reported. Why won't they tell us why?

district 96 alumni  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 6:47 AM

because of our judicial system all parties concerned deserve due process concerning the matter. if they turn out to be just allegations and a board member speaks on the matter then the school board has opened themselves up for litigation. if allegations are true the victims deserve privacy. that is why the school board asked for questions to be submitted in writing

Calm down from Riverside  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 4:53 AM

Sorry to disappoint but all they got was a $10 stipend from the teachers union for attending the meeting. Relax.

Not a fan  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 9:29 PM

This article makes it sound like Colleen had many supporters at the meeting. I was there, and I really don't think that was true. I think many parents were there hoping that the board would address it in some way or form. Of course, that didn't happen. The board, and Lamberson, have handled this terribly.

Etch-a-sketch  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 8:07 PM

I read on an earlier comment that was deleted with the new format that the Ames teachers were PAID to attend this meeting? That doesn't seem right. Did Colleen bribe them to go? Were all the teachers "invited"? Sounds sketchy to me.

Kathleen Subaitis from North Riverside  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 5:27 PM

Perhaps all the teachers present were not there in support of the principal as was reported. I wonder if they said so or if they gathered around her...maybe some came who are in disagreement with the principal and were checking out how the Board of Education was going to handle the apparent lack of trust that seems to be seeping through the community.

Heavy Metal Rocks! from Riverside,IL  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 5:16 PM

Was there any discussion of that gleaming metal box atop Ames School? A big, bright red ribbon tied around it during this time of year (formerly known as Christmas time) would be appropriate. But then appropriateness is not much valued anymore regardless of season.

Concerned Community Member  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 3:17 PM

"A difficult situation for Lieggi"? This is a situation of her own making. She deserves no one's sympathy, and no one's support.

Resident  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 3:01 PM

And people say the RB board is a circus. Refusing to answer questions about failing to comply with your own Child Abuse policies... what a joke. These clowns should have to answer for their stupidity and then should be "asked to leave". Give me a break, each one of these board members, and the principal should be sick check that, they are sick. Sad to see how those who we have elected are now giving us the run around.

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