CHARLESTON -- School officials' shredding of a class project that was assigned by a substitute teacher prior to his arrest has become a source of contention between the Charleston school district and the Edgar County Watchdogs.
The issue surfaced at the Feb. 21 Charleston school board meeting when Kirk Allen, co-founder of this local government watchdog group, asked school officials questions regarding former substitute teacher Adrian Rivas. On Feb. 9, Rivas was arrested on a Texas warrant in a child indecency case. Allen's presentation included questions on any complaints about Rivas that the district received prior to his arrest.
Board President Jason Coe said he was aware prior to the Feb. 21 board meeting that some parents had raised concerns about one of Rivas' class projects at Charleston High School, but he did not have enough information about the outcome of these concerns to answer Allen's questions at the meeting.
Coe said he subsequently found out that when Rivas was a long-term substitute teacher at the high school, he got the principal's permission in January to conduct a sociology project that included getting photos of each of his students.
Right after the sociology project started, Coe said he saw a parent post online about being uncomfortable with Rivas obtaining student photos. Coe said he shared this parent's concern with high school Principal Trevor Doughty, who also had heard similar concerns from parents about the photos and about questionnaires for the class project.
"Parents are encouraged to come forward and say something," Coe said of such concerns.
Coe said these concerns prompted Doughty to obtain the questionnaires and photos from Rivas and to then shred them at the request of the concerned parents. He said the district found no reason to take action against Rivas regarding the class project. He said teachers often use student photos for class projects, and Rivas had a complaint-free record at the time and was known for being well liked by parents.
Allen, of the Edgar County Watchdogs, said he takes issue with school officials saying at the Feb. 21 board meeting that there were no complaints on file regarding Rivas prior to his Feb. 9 arrest.
"They have obviously had complaints," Allen said. "The biggest question is, why don't they have this on file?"
In addition, Allen said he believes that the school district violated the Illinois School Student Records Act by shredding the photos and questionnaires. Allen said he interprets the act as indicating that these items are public records.
Allen said he also believes that the district should have turned over the photos and questionnaires to law enforcement. Allen said such background materials can help investigators when they are trying to determine the pattern of practice for a possible suspect's alleged criminal behavior.
Coe said the parents who were concerned about the class project shared their concerns indirectly via social media or informally to the principal, and did not file any official complaints with the school district.
Regarding the shredding of the photos and questionnaires, Coe said the district's interpretation of the Student Records Act is that these items were part of a class project and such projects, like homework assignments, are not considered to be student records or public documents.
Coe said the district shredded the class projects well before finding out that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Rivas. He said Rivas passed a full background check and was hired by the district before charges were filed against him in Texas and a warrant was issued.