SPRINGFIELD — The father of a Gregory Middle School student who was allegedly tied up and sexually assaulted by two fellow students paused briefly to regain his composure.
He was testifying at a House committee hearing Wednesday in favor of a bill written by state Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) in response to the incident. In the end, the bill garnered only four of the five votes needed to pass out of committee, with three Democrats withholding their approval.
"What if the victim were a young teacher just starting her career, what if the victim were a staff member?" said the father of the alleged victim, who asked to remain unnamed to protect the anonymity of his 11-year-old son. "That student would already have been expelled."
Conflict and outrage has boiled over at school board meetings and gatherings of parents for the last month, ever since news broke about the attack, which allegedly occurred Nov. 11 at a private residence. Despite repeated pleas by the alleged victim's parents, the school board is legally prohibited from removing the two students charged with the act since it didn't occur on school property. However, students who attack teachers or staff members may be placed in alternative schools, no matter where the attack is initiated.
Senger's bill would have closed what supporters say is a loophole in the law by giving school boards the ability to place students charged with violent crimes, called forcible felonies, in alternative schools.
Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, a Chicago Democrat who sat as chairman of the Juvenile Justice Reform Committee, opposed the proposal, saying several times that it would expand the power of school boards to make judgments outside of their purview.
"We are having a school reach outside of its district's jurisdiction and make a decision about whether a child stays or is expelled or goes to a different school," he said.
Rep. Monique Davis, another Chicago Democrat who voted against the bill, said she's opposed to removing any child from school, although she later asked why the students were not placed in a juvenile detention facility.
"Kids are kids, and I don't like the idea of throwing any of them away," she said. "And I think it's so important that we realize their behavior can change."
But the change allowed for in Senger's bill would be discretionary, not mandatory, emphasized Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Countryside, who sat on the committee to fill in for an absent member. He said it would be up to school boards whether or not to remove the student, and the option would only apply to students charged with violent crimes — not smaller offenses involving drugs, theft or property damage.
"This is not mandatory for the school board," Durkin said. "This would have problems if it wasn't discretionary. (But) the school has an opportunity to provide a safe environment for everyone. In a sense, you're protecting students by placing them in a program that will separate them from the school population."
In a press release, Senger pointed out that alternative schools provide troubled students with the attention and protection they need. "Every child is worth saving. My bill provides both the victim and their aggressor the chance to succeed."
Senger was livid with her Democratic counterparts on the committee.
"I am outraged that the Democrats on this committee would block legislation that was simply intended to empower school districts with an option to keep their students safe," she said in the press release. "After listening to a heart-wrenching story by the victim's father, they showed no compassion to this devastating situation."
The mother of the alleged victim sat a few feet away from her husband, who sat at a small table with Senger and two other men who testified in favor of the bill: school board member Curt Bradshaw and John Glimco, assistant regional superintendent for alternative services for the DuPage Regional Office of Education.
Bradshaw said the bill would give victims the best opportunity to recover by allowing school districts to separate them from their aggressors.
"As it stands today, a student may commit heinous crimes outside of a school setting," he said. "School officials today have no tools to fully address the situation. Worse yet are situations when the student aggressor keeps attending the school. Victims walk around the school not knowing when they're going to see an aggressor around the corner."
Senger says she fully intends to keep working on the bill and will try a second time to get it through committee.
"This is way too important and way too serious to turn away," she said.
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade......then mix it with some vodka.
My thoughts exactly. What can we do to help this pass?
The paper had a couple of potluck posts and one recommendation was to "make friends with a Dem lawmaker who can push the bill." That's probably a pretty good idea - maybe if she co-sponsored the bill with a Dem it can be presented as a bipartisan effort.
Count me in as one who is saddened that it didn't pass. When Monique Davis makes the statement "kids are kids", you know you have an uphill battle.
I'm encouraged to see efforts being directed to help Ms. Senger get this passed. We as a community need to get behind this effort and put the past few week's distractions behind us to help families. Sadly, I'm sure this is not the only family this has happened, or will happen, to.
Naperville dad's testimony rejected along with school discipline proposal By Nicole Milstead | Daily Herald Staff Published: 3/4/2009 7:46 PM SPRINGFIELD - Despite graphic, shocking testimony from the father of an alleged 11-year-old sexual assault victim, an Illinois House committee rejected Wednesday efforts to clarify student discipline laws in the wake of the Naperville incident.
"The assumption most people make is that boys will be boys, but I am here to tell you this was not a pantsing. This was not a wedgie. This was an order of magnitude way beyond that, and frankly our conscience and view of the world sometimes will not allow us to believe that middle schoolers, 11- or 12-year-old boys, would be capable of the level of crime that occurred," the father told members of the House Juvenile Justice Reform Committee.
The issue presented to lawmakers is how schools are allowed to respond to incidents that occur away from school grounds.
State Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, proposed legislation intended to spell out that school districts such as Naperville's Indian Prairie Unit District 204, where all the boys involved attended school, could remove students who face pending felony charges and place them in an alternative school.
But Democrats balked. Rockford state Rep. Chuck Jefferson called the idea "knee jerk" and "unnecessary." The committee vote was 4-3, but it needed five votes to clear the nine-member panel. The support came from Republicans while Democrats opposed it and also accounted for absences.
Supporters said they were outraged at the committee antics.
"This is a sad day," said state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican who voted for the legislation. "It's absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous."
In this case, police say an attack involving Gregory Middle School students occurred Nov. 11 in a home on Naperville's south side. The alleged victim's parents wanted the accused students removed from the school. A 12-year-old and 11-year-old face felony charges of criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual assault. The 11-year-old also faces a misdemeanor count of battery in a separate, in-school incident involving the same alleged victim.
Recently, one of the accused transferred out of District 204 to Lincoln Junior High School in neighboring Naperville Unit District 203. A court order is keeping the other student at Gregory Middle School but 100 feet away from that classmate.
DuPage County Assistant Regional Superintendent John Glimco told the committee it would be illegal for school officials to remove the student without a change to the law, which he supported.
"It would be foolish of us to believe that just because something happens outside of school grounds it would never have an impact on the general welfare of students in schools," he said.
The father said the change would have not only protected his son but his classmates who are aware of the incident and in many instances have expressed concern.
"All of the students at my son's middle school know what happened and know who the (accused) are," the boy's father said.
Sanity- Minds are like parachutes. Just because you've lost yours doesn't mean you can borrow mine.
You are correct. The district has from day one has had the authority to move the accused to another middle school within District 204.
What the law would do is enable the district to REmove a child from a traditional school setting if a felony charge (whether on OR off campus; currently only ON campus applies) was filed against a student.