The Lake Bluff Elementary District 65 Board of Education wants to update our community regarding allegations involving Charles T. Ritz III, who served as a teacher at Lake Bluff Junior High School from 1975 to 1985. Some of Mr. Ritz's former LBJH students have come forward alleging that he sexually abused them. The Lake Bluff Police Department and the Lake County States Attorney have launched investigations into the matter. The School District is cooperating fully with the authorities and will continue to do so.
This is a criminal investigation of allegations dating back more than 30 years, and by necessity is being conducted by law enforcement. Public comments on this matter by the school system have been limited to avoid compromising this investigation in any way. Still, we want the community to know that we take these allegations very seriously and feel compassion and concern for anyone who may have been impacted.
Lake Bluff School District 65 believes that protecting the safety and well-being of our students is our paramount duty. Recently, an online petition was posted seeking protective measures for our students. Virtually all of the safeguards sought are already included in our current policies and procedures to protect our schools and students, which include the following:
- The District conducts fingerprint-based criminal background checks and cross-referencing of state and national sexual and violent offender registries as a part of our pre-employment process (Policy 5.30)
- The District regularly checks such registries to determine if there are offenders living and working within our community. Our schools are equipped with a driver's license scanner to check the sex abuser registry and ensure that no one on that registry enters the school. No bus stop is located within 500 feet of a registered sex offender.
- All faculty and staff must comply with District policies on ethics and technology use and attend training regarding the parameters of appropriate conduct with minor students during and outside of the school day, including a teacher's use of social media, as well as other topics related to maintaining a safe school environment. (Policies 5:210 Ethics and Conduct Policy; 5:125 Personal Technology and Social Media: Usage and Conduct; and 7.20 Harassment of Students Prohibited).
- All District staff members are mandated reporters to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS); the District provides annual training to all staff on this responsibility and maintains a log of all reports to DCFS. (Policy 5.90 Abused and Neglected Child Reporting)
- Our elementary school social workers and middle school health teachers deliver the age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention and assault awareness curriculum mandated by "Erin's Law" annually to all students grades pre-kindergarten through grade 8. (Policy 6:60 Curriculum Content)
Additionally, in the decades that have passed since Mr. Ritz left our district, the legal landscape has evolved to provide additional protections for students. For example, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has developed an Educator Misconduct Project. If a teacher is convicted of a felony or is terminated or resigns under suspicion that he or she abused a child, the school district is obligated to contact the authorities and report the teacher to ISBE, which will investigate and suspend or revoke the teacher's license if appropriate. ISBE also will report all teacher license sanctions to a national clearinghouse for state departments of education so that a sanctioned teacher's record is accessible to a prospective district employer. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strengthens these protections by prohibiting confidential agreements with former employees and giving districts more latitude to report cases of teacher-student abuse to law enforcement, DCFS and ISBE.
Lake Bluff School District 65 constantly strives to ensure a culture of vigilance to prevent potential harm, and we utilize resources to ensure that only well-vetted educators join our district and are recommended to other districts by us. While we are confident that our current framework is consistent with best practices, we will continue to monitor and review our practices and supplement them as advisable.
In closing, we want to emphasize that the education, safety and well-being of Lake Bluff School District 65 students is and always will be our top priority. We appreciate your support of our schools and students.
Lake Bluff ESD 65 Board of Education and Dr. Jean H. Sophie, Superintendent