Stop Child Predators in Our Schools
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UPDATE FEB 2017: The petition was formally presented to Fullerton Joint Union School District on February 7th and they agreed to appoint a Special Investigative Counsel. The petition was formally presented to Lake Bluff Board of Education on February 14th. Lake Bluff responded with a list of current policies that they believe address all elements of the petition. We respectfully disagree with Lake Bluff any many fronts. An obvious weakness remains in that Lake Bluff's current policies would not prevent Charles Ritz from being re-hired at Lake Bluff if he applied for a teaching position. We will continue to pursue a constructive dialogue with Lake Bluff.
Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. We expect them to be safe at our schools. When the safety net of a school fractures and a student becomes a victim, we expect our schools to urgently respond with unlimited energy and all their resources to address and fix a system that has failed the children. The timing of events or when the school becomes aware of an event, should not play a role in the how a school responds. While legal standards may hamper how law enforcement and the courts can respond to a situation, we are not aware of any Statute of Limitation that restricts how and when a school can respond when an alleged sexual predator has walked its hallways. There is no Statute of Limitation on DOING THE RIGHT THING. Our story is focused on two school districts. However, we are hopeful people will recognize the events outlined below can happen anywhere and supporting a petition to improve the speed and rigor of how a school responds to such situations is to the benefit of all schools and all current, former and future students.
Lake Bluff and La Habra schools have provided no evidence that they have been anything but passive in responding to and providing for the needs of victims of sexual abuse. Recently, a number of brave former students have come forward and made claims of sexual abuse and predatory practices by Charles T. Ritz III during the time Mr. Ritz was employed by the schools. The statements of these victims have prompted local law enforcement in Illinois and California to initiate formal investigations. To the best of our knowledge these investigations remain open and active, with charging decisions to come as early as the first half of 2017. It is recognized that both school districts have made claims that they are cooperating with law enforcement.
The primary mission shared by all educational institutions is to provide a safe and healthy environment for all students. When a safe environment is not provided, as was clearly the case during the time Mr. Ritz was teaching, it is reasonable that all resources would be directed toward identifying the scope of the breech, how and why the breech went undetected, what improvements can made to minimize risk going forward and finally what steps can be taken to ensure the source of the problem cannot continue to cause harm. Our petition seeks La Habra and Lake Bluff to promptly undertake steps that address at a minimum the following factors:
1) Appoint a Special Investigative Counsel: To provide unquestioned validity to the investigative process, the school shall hire an outside expert to lead and organize the internal investigation. This individual will be charged with ensuring findings are fully documented and that a report for public distribution is produced to bring transparency to what happened, specific steps that will be taken to improve the system and specific timelines and individuals that will be responsible for the execution of corrective action. This individual would work with the administration to determine the appropriate individuals to assist with the investigation and should have ultimate authority on the appointment of additional external parties. Outside parties in leadership roles helps ensure the review process will be prompt, that assessments are thorough, that there is accountability for all findings and corrective responses and importantly that the process is independent to remove any appearance of a conflict of interest by current members of the administration. Special Investigative Counsels have been used very successfully by many of the institutions mentioned herein.
2) Identification of Victims: As part of the investigation, identify as many victims as possible; while balancing promptness and sensitivity. The scope would include students in Mr. Ritz’ classes, but information to date on victims that have come forward suggests particular focus be paid to students Mr. Ritz encountered in his role as coach for sports teams and school sanctioned/school affiliated clubs and activities such as the Surf Club and Foreign Student Exchange programs.
3) Address Victim Needs: Using experts in the treatment of sexual abuse, determine what services should be provided to victims. The needs of victims can be obtained via active outreach to victims and consulting experts in the area of child sexual abuse. The same empathy and services should be provided to all victims, regardless of when they attended the school or when the abuse took place. If the schools lack the resources to meet a need, outside resources and experts should be engaged.
4) Assess Risk Management Framework: Assess what changes need to be made to policies, procedures, human and information resources to eliminate or at least minimize future risks. At a minimum, changes made should address the direct shortcomings identified that led to Mr. Ritz going undetected during his time of employment.
5) Enhance Training Programs: Determine what training programs need to be enhanced or added to ensure maximum safety is provided and appropriate people know how to respond when risks begin to emerge. Training should provide students and school staff with tools to detect early warning signs of sexual abuse and clear direction on how to report any suspicions of inappropriate activity.
6) Establish Victim Rights Policy: Implement and communicate a clear articulation of victim rights and expectations for how a report of abuse will be handled. This should provide victims with a clear and safe path for reporting concerns, how such reports will be responded to with specific identification of time frames and people involved and the availability of privacy. Victims and their families shall not be placed in a position of opining or suggesting how a situation should be responded to by the administration of the school. These rights should encompass the needs of current and former students.
7) Establish Standards for External Reporting: Formal standards should be established to address mandatory reporting of suspected sexual abuse and reporting to other parties as situations warrant. A protocol shall be established to ensure all pertinent external parties are informed in a timely and comprehensive manner. This would include law enforcement, social agencies, sources that may be consulted by prospective employers of the accused, community members and current and former students.
8) Enhance Hiring Standards: Review all hiring practices to ensure undue reliance is not placed on a previous employer to vet a prospective employee. Reporting by schools has proved to be problematic in this case and many others to the point that the practice of not reporting and letting the next employer deal with the problem has received a title of “passing the trash”. Enhanced hiring procedures that proactively and thoroughly seek to detect problems in the past jobs of prospective employees should become the norm and replace the traditional passive reliance on reporting by former employers. The aim is to limit the opportunities for sexual predators to remain undetected and gainfully employed in positions that give them easy access to children.
The above steps can and have been employed by others without compromising investigations being conducted by law enforcement. Cooperating with law enforcement is a minimum standard that must be adhered to when required. However, the determination of what, if any crimes have been committed is only one aspect of a risk event that threatens the operation of a safe and sound school environment. In cases of alleged sexual abuse like the one with Mr. Ritz, La Habra and Lake Bluff are encouraged to fully cooperate with law enforcement. A proactive and comprehensive response to alleged sexual assault requires steps that are outside the control of law enforcement to minimize the risk. A school system must employ considerable resources to adequately respond to alleged sexual assault. The conviction of an offender only addresses the symptom of a problem that was able to fester and grow due to an ineffective or inattentive risk management framework. The termination or resignation of an alleged offender without proper notification of other parties merely passes the risk to another education system and may even possibly embolden the offender. This passing on of risk seems to have been present in the situation with Mr. Ritz given the facts that are known.
In order to provide examples of how some institutions have responded to similar situations with their own investigations and corrective response while cooperating with other investigative authorities, we offer the links below. The list also provides links to other related situations and studies pertaining to the sexual assault of children. Any reasonable investigation of child sexual abuse in the US will show that a low percentage of incidents are actually reported, the willingness of victims to come forward does not emerge until the victim is well into adulthood and that a low percentage of allegations are proven to fabricated. These statistics paint a potentially horrific wake of destruction in the case of Mr. Ritz. Numerous victims have come forward, suggesting the true number could be in excess of 100. The victims that have come forward encountered Mr. Ritz from 1978 to 2000, leaving 15 years of students in his teaching career that have not reached the age when many victims come forward.
Background on Ritz Story
The media has produced two primary stories related to the ongoing investigation of Mr. Ritz in November 2016. Links to both are provided below. The remainder of the links pertain to media coverage post-the petition being formally presented to the two school boards in February 2017.
Charles T. Ritz was employed as a teacher at Lake Bluff (IL) Junior High School (now Lake Bluff Middle School from 1974 to 1985 and at La Habra High School (CA) from 1986 to 2016. In July 1985 the Lake Bluff School Board was informed of at least two instances of Mr. Ritz being involved with sexual related activities with his students. One of these reports involved students in Lake Bluff and the second event involved a former student that had moved to Florida. On September 24, 1985, Ritz was suspended with pay. On September 25, 1985 the Board informed Mr. Ritz that they scheduled a hearing for October 15, 1985 to review the allegations made. On September 25, 1985 Mr. Ritz tendered his resignation effective immediately and the Board accepted his resignation on that same day.
Per documents provided by the Lake Bluff School Board relating to the matter, there was no evidence provided that indicated the matters involving Mr. Ritz were reported to law enforcement or any government body for further investigation, nor was there an indication that the allegations were reported in a manner that would have made the allegations known to any prospective future employer of Mr. Ritz.
In the fall of 1986 Mr. Ritz was hired as a teacher at La Habra High School. He remained with the school until the end of the 2015-16 school year. A Freedom of Information Act request was made to the school and the school board for records pertaining to Mr. Ritz and specifically sought any information pertaining to accusations by students or their families of inappropriate conduct. The response provided to the request was a one page document of Mr. Ritz’ initial teacher contract. We appreciate legislative frameworks are in place to protect a variety of parties. Despite the intent of FOIA, the spirit of FOIA requests cannot always be met when such information is maintained in an individual’s personnel file. Some victims in California have stated that they or a family member did report specifics of inappropriate acts to the school and or the school board. In Lake Bluff evidence of similar reports were provided in response to a FOIA request. The absence of such documentation in California can reflect that such reports have been destroyed or that the laws in place do not allow such to be provided in response to a FOIA request.
Our aim is to bring support and resources to the victims. While we are focused on two school districts, we are hopeful the response here will add momentum to a change in how victim rights and victim needs are addressed by all school districts.
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