Lake Forest Board #67 meeting of Sunday, November 20 resulted in resigning of John Stenert, but where questions still remain about a possible coverup by Superintendent Harry Griffith

November 21, 2011

A special meeting of the Lake Forest School District 67 Board of Education meeting was held Sunday, November 20 at Lake Forest High School, West Campus at 5:00 p.m. to deal with the revelations recently brought to the forefront, but which took place back in 2009, about the behavior of Deer Path Middle School Principal, John Steinert.

The meeting was attended by concerned parent of students enrolled in the Deer Path Middle School and interested citizens of Lake Forest. Channel 7 and Fox News had cameras and reporters present. There were also numerous reporters from local media publication.

I missed the opening part of the meeting because of another obligation. Late on Sunday afternoon and as a cellist, I was involved in playing an all-Mozart program at Gorton Center in Lake Forest as a member of the North Suburban Symphony. Arriving around 6:15 p.m. with my cello in hand, I discovered that the 5:00 p.m. meeting had been adjourned to a closed Executive Session meeting not long after it had first been called to order at 5:00 p.m., and after only two citizen responses had been heard.

During the time of the closed two-hour Executive Session, many returned home, only to return to West Campus at 7:00 p.m. when the “adjourn to open session” was slated to begin.

At the appointed 7:00 p.m. hour, board members entered and took their assigned seats. Seated left to right at a long table facing the front of the meeting room were: Rick Schuler, Jeff Pinderski, John Julian (Dr. Harry Griffith) Julia Wold, Bill Anderson and Laurie Rose.

Julia Wold as Board 67 president called the session to order and took the roll call. She also informed those present of decisions made by the Board while in its closed Executive Session.

Among the decisions agreed upon was the formation of a task force to review district policy of how to handle situations like the current one and the suspension immediately of the Youth Officer Program.

Ms. Wold then announced that Andy Henderson would be the permanent principal replacement at the Deer Path Middle School for John Steinert.

Also announced by Ms. Wold were two additional scheduled community meetings to discuss the John Steinert issue: (1) Monday, November 21 at 5:00 p.m. at West Campus and (2) Tuesday, November at 5:00 p.m. prior to the regularly scheduled District 67 Board Meeting, also at West Campus.

Julia Wold then entertained questions from the assembled, fielding all of the question by herself. Rules for speaking: Comments would be limited to five minutes; redundant statements would call for moving along; and all speakers must speak from the podium giving their names and addresses before commenting.

There was an angry tone to the questioning. Superintendent Griffith, while taking notes, kept his eyes averted downwards most of the time.

President Julia Wold appeared to be fluttered with little of worth to say, either not willing or unable to address questions that pertained to Superintendent Harry Griffith.

Following are several of the pointed and astute questions directed to 67th District Board Member and Superintendent Griffith, about which many involved the fitness of Superintendent Griffith to remain at the helm.

1. Julia Wold was asked if Harry Griffith shouldn’t be answering the questions posed, as many dealt with the superintendent’s fitness to remain in his position?

2. When asked if Superintendent Griffith would be investigated, Wold suggested that it would be taken under advisement.

3. Insistence for a response to question two led to another inquiry dealing with the same issue, whether or not there would be an investigation into Griffith’s involvement which the questioner perceived as a cover up? Answer by Ms. Wold: “Will discuss with the rest of the board.”

4. Following, a citizen asked when a response to question three could be expected?

5. Upon receiving a non-answer, the next questioner inquired whether the board had ever requested the resignation of Harry Griffith in its closed Executive Session?

6. One extremely angry citizen spoke of Superintendent’s Griffith’s unbelievable parachute of benefits when he retires at the end of this year: Five years of free medical care; gift of a car that Griffith now uses paid for by Districts #67 and #115, and house mortgage payments continuing? The citizen then said of the superintendent: “Harry Griffith has bamboozled the taxpayers for two years in a total cover up. Is this how my tax dollars are being spent?”

7. Another upright Lake Forest citizen compared the Lake Forest situation to the current Penn State scandal where both involved were fired, the coach and the one who covered up an incident that might have prevented more sordid behavior from escalating.

8. The board was then reminded that had the Steinert incident been treated differently two years ago and rectified, none of this would be happening today.

9. The idea of a task force being formed was ridiculed. Retorted one questioner: “You mean those who erred (the board) will decide who will be on the Task Force!”

10. Another citizen thought too much time was being spent by the board to correct school policies through the proposed establishment of a task force, etc., to deal with future issues that might present themselves, with not enough thought being given to dealing with the issue at hand.

11. By far this was the most potent remark of the evening: “I don’t think we need a task force; we need leadership. A true leader would have done more in 2009. A true leader would resign now. The board should have asked for Harry Griffith’s resignation at its closed Executive session.”

12. Julia Wold refused to comment whether the board had asked for Superintendent Griffith’s resignation.

13. As to the admission that three of the present board members were on the board back in 2009 and were aware of the Steinert situation but didn’t act at the time, all three were asked if they planned to resign? Julia Wold answered “no.” There was no comment from either Laura Rose or Jeff Pinderski.

The last order of business was that the resignation of John Steinert was accepted.

The meeting was adjourned around 9:00 a.m., but the evening was not yet over for many in attendance. There was much mulling around with discussions among the attendees both in the meeting place and outside the room in the hallway.

The general mood was that a cover up had been initiated by Harry Griffith and that Superintendent Harry Griffith’s explanation (or spin) that the redacted police report he had received back in 2009 didn’t give him cause to remove Steinert from his position as principal of the Deer Path Middle School did not sound credible. Was there no curiosity by Superintendent Griffith to find out the nature of the redacted information which told how Steinert repeatedly sent sexually explicit messages and a lewd photo to a woman after she ignored him or told him to stop? After all, Steinert WAS ARRESTED back in 2009.

All in all, this is the first time Superintendent Griffith has come under fire. He will have to defend himself, if he is able to. Without doubt Griffith’s image is now tarnished and this image will follow him into his retirement whatever the final outcome may be relative to his lack or curiosity or his his willful decision not to take responsible action back in 2009.

There certainly will be more to come about this unfortunate saga about which the citizens and taxpayers of Lake Forest must demand and receive answers that meet the standard of credibility.

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