With one discipline audit bogged down, OPRF nixes request for second process

? Parent/community group that helped prompt audit says confidentiality must be preserved for those testifying.

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By DREW CARTER

The state-led audit of Oak Park and River Forest High School's disciplinary system was criticized last week by one of the two parent/community groups that helped launch it.

Speaking for the Community Code of Conduct Committee, Melinda Malecki said that because the Cook County Regional Office of Education (ROE), which was charged with conducting the audit, could not promise confidentiality to parents or teachers who might want to testify, it could not be considered an "independent" auditor.

"Confidentiality would need to be granted to people whose input is needed to get at the real issues," Malecki said.

ROE Supt. Robert Ingraffia said that he and his audit team would not use or release any names of parents or teachers who might testify. But in vetting testimony, investigators would need to address specific issues raised, and in doing so, the identity of the person giving the testimony could be compromised, Ingraffia said.

Also, any evidence or testimony submitted to Ingraffia's office could be made available to anyone seeking it via the Freedom of Information Act.

Malecki said some parents with students at the high school are afraid to testify for fear of retribution from school officials.

The committee also has doubts about the ROE team because of the time it is taking in the audit. Ingraffia hopes to have a "preliminary" report by Jan. 1, but said that he couldn't say what a preliminary report might look like. He said he had "no idea" when the audit might wrap up.

When the audit began in late September, Ingraffia estimated his group would have a final report in October.

Part of the disconnect between his team and community groups has been in understanding the mission given to the ROE by state Sen. Don Harmon and other Oak Park legislators, Ingraffia said. Community groups have raised specific complaints about how students have been charged with offenses, however he was instructed only to look at whether the ways OPRF metes out discipline is fair and just.

"To the best of our abilities, this office will conduct an independent audit as requested by your elected representatives. The work will be consistent with that request and not with any other," Ingraffia writes in a letter to the committee.

The Code of Conduct group received a letter in July from OPRF board President Carlotta Lucchesi stating, "Our hope is to find a group that is mutually acceptable" to the board and the committee.

Because of the confidentiality issue, the committee asked the board for another audit, and provided a list of consultants it deemed acceptable.

But the board demurred, choosing to back the ROE audit, said Kay Foran, OPRF spokeswoman. "The board is not about to begin to talk about another audit at this time," she said.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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