Parents lambaste Danville district's handling of allegations against ex-volunteer

Parents lambaste Danville district's handling of allegations against ex-volunteer

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DANVILLE — When North Ridge Middle School Music Boosters member Jamie Norton heard that a longtime trusted volunteer with the school's music and drama programs was arrested last month on charges of sexually abusing a minor, she said she was horrified and broke into tears.

On Wednesday, Norton told Danville school board members she's also horrified with the way the district has handled the situation.

"The school administration has distanced themselves from the man (David J. Woodrow), by stating that he was never a District 118 employee and that he was paid by the booster club to help with choreography," said Norton, whose daughter has been involved in the school's two award-winning show choirs.

"We feel like they're trying to sweep it under a rug," added Abby Thompson, another parent.

"The fact is that Mr. Woodrow was the co-director of the show choir and both school musicals," Norton continued. "He was in the school almost daily and was responsible for the show's concept. He was given a key to the school and had the alarm codes. We all trusted him. When we went to Nashville, he checked the boys' rooms at lights out."

Woodrow, 41, of Danville, faces six counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for allegedly fondling a 15-year-old boy on several occasions in 2011 and 2012 when the boy attended a private boarding school. The victim is now 22.

Vermilion County State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy said other victims have also come forward.

Woodrow's jury trial is set for Oct. 22. He is free on bond but not allowed to have any contact with minors, except — under certain restrictions — in the course of his job as assistant manager of The Beef House.

He is no longer a volunteer in the district or under contract with the music boosters as a choreographer.

Norton said that given the nature of the charges, she thought Jennifer Woodrow — David Woodrow's wife, who is the school's music teacher and show choir director — would step down or at least address the issue at a Aug. 8 meeting with show-choir parents.

"I hoped we could gather the kids together and work on healing and addressing the shock and pain we are all in. Most importantly, I wanted to be sure that we provided a safe place for any kid that may have been abused to share their story and feel supported," Norton said.

Instead, she said, it was a routine meeting with talk on fundraising, "a fun overnight trip" to Chicago to see a traveling Broadway show and the director "explaining that she had hired several new choreographers and that the theme for the show was up in the air."

On Wednesday, John Hart, associate superintendent of elementary education, said he attended the show-choir meeting and assured parents their children were going to be cared for and the district had school social workers, psychologists and guidance counselors in place to counsel them and their families, if needed. He went on to say the district sent letters to parents of all middle and high school students.

"We will do whatever we can," he said, adding anyone who would like to talk with someone can call the special-education office at 217-444-1083.

Norton and a handful of other parents, who shared similar concerns with the board, acknowledged that Jennifer Woodrow hasn't been accused of any crime or wrongdoing. But they said they believe allowing her to stay in her position may keep students from coming forward or seeking help.

Norton said she felt forced to withdraw her daughter from show choir.

Another parent, Suzzen Borcz, said her eighth-grader chose to withdraw on her own and that about 18 others have as well.

Suzi Robinson, who has children in seventh, ninth and 11th grades, said she hopes school officials use this "horrible issue" to highlight the services they have in place for all students.

"They can be an example to show other school districts how to handle this," she said.

Though board members didn't address the parents' comments specifically, Randal Ashton assured them they were listening.

"There will definitely be a discussion as a result of that," he said, adding the seven members must meet to talk about the situation. "We know that it bothers people."