Case against McLean County school district heard in high court

Case against McLean County school district heard in high court

SPRINGFIELD — The McLean County school district failed "multiple times" to report actions of convicted sex offender Jon White to state officials, an attorney for one of his victims told the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday.

But an attorney for the McLean school district said the Urbana school district hired White before ever hearing anything about his employment at McLean County, and that state law protecting public officials applied to the McLean district.

The hearing came after a Fourth District Appellate Court ruling in May in a case in which the victim was seeking damages from the McLean district, alleging that district should have warned Urbana about White's actions in Normal.

White pleaded guilty to molesting students in 2005 and 2006, when he taught second grade at Urbanas Thomas Paine Elementary School. He is serving a 60-year prison sentence for aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Champaign and McLean counties.

Before being hired by Urbana, White taught elementary school in Normal from 2002 to 2005.

Champaign County Judge Mike Jones ruled in June 2009 that the students could not recover damages from the McLean County school district or its administrators. He applied the public duty rule, which says a governmental entity owes a duty of care to the public at large, not to individual members of the public.

But the appellate court said that rule didnt apply. This is not a case where McLean County school officials negligently performed their ordinary duties, it said, but one where it is alleged they specifically created the danger complained of.

On Wednesday, attorney Ellyn Bullock told the court, "There were multiple incidents in which these defendants were individually required to report" White's actions, under the state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. "They did not report, many times, the known sexual harassment, teacher-on-student harassment, that was accumulating at their school district," Bullock said.

James Kearns, arguing for the McLean school district, said the appellate court's ruling was "plainly erroneous."

"The whole thrust of the Fourth District's opinion was that we could potentially be liable for creating and sending a letter to Urbana — with the additional implication that Urbana received and relied on that letter in making a decision to hire Jon White," Kearns said. "That is simply not supported by the record."

The lawsuit claims Normal school officials knew White had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with female students there, that they failed to report the abuse, and that they wrote a letter of recommendation for him to work in Urbana.

There is no indication when the Supreme Court will rule on the case. A video of the arguments before the court is online at the Supreme Court's website. (Click the Jan. 18 link for "Jane Doe-3 v. White.")

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