Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 officials are investigating a teacher who was placed on a leave of absence. In an internal email sent to faculty and staff on Sept. 25, D200 Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said that school officials “are taking all appropriate steps to investigate allegations and ensure the safety of all of our students.”
When contacted on Sept. 26, Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds confirmed that his department has been communicating with D200 officials about the investigation.
“The department is aware of the situation and are in contact with school district officials,” Reynolds explained in an email statement. “We have no further information to share.”
Pruitt-Adams did not reveal the nature of the investigation, but explained that the district “is legally restricted from sharing more information” before instructing school employees to “refrain from engaging in any discussion about this topic” in order to blunt the spread of “rumors and gossip.”
The email instructs faculty and staff to refer to a counselor or social worker any student who wants to talk about the undisclosed situation. When approached by adults who want to talk about the situation, faculty and staff should respond: “This really is not an appropriate topic of conversation. Let’s change the subject,” according to the email.
Despite measures taken by district officials to contain the rumors, gossip and innuendo circulating around the investigation, at least three OPRF parents interviewed by Wednesday Journal said that the situation that the district is legally restricted from talking about is an allegation of inappropriate conduct between a teacher and a student at the high school.
Most parents interviewed requested anonymity in order to talk freely about the situation. They said that the allegations of misconduct are an open secret at the high school and that many students know the teacher and the student at the center of the allegations.
The chatter surrounding the allegations has also been rampant on social media. On Sept. 25, the administrators of the closed Facebook group OPRF High School Parents were driven to close down any comments related to the matter.
“We want to thank those of you who have reached out about a terrible situation involving an OPRF teacher and a student,” the statement reads.
“The admins have discussed at length and have come [to] the conclusion that this page is not the place to discuss this incident. We want to show respect for the innocent young person involved in this, and don’t want to take the risk of someone disclosing private information, or worse, passing along unfounded gossip.
We urge you to reach out directly to OPRF administration and ask for answers.”
On Sept. 25, Pruitt-Adams sent an email to OPRF families encouraging them “to refrain from contributing to speculation and hearsay.”
Sheela Raja, a clinical psychologist and the parent of a junior at OPRF, said that she understands the district’s legal restrictions and acknowledges that not much is known about the matter beyond hearsay and speculation; nonetheless, Raja added, she’s disappointed with how the district has handled the incident.
“This was an opportunity to have greater dialogue,” Raja said. “This was a teaching moment that we missed. Regardless of the outcome of the specific situation, we can use this as a springboard to have discussions and teaching moments that are general in nature.”