LAKE BLUFF — When people are hurting it can take a long time for them to act, and that is what happened with a group of former Lake Bluff Middle School students who allege that a teacher abused them sexually between 30 and 40 years ago.
When those former students let Lake Bluff Village President Kathleen O’Hara, who was a teacher and administrator at the school from 1968 to 2005, know they were starting a private Facebook page to communicate with each other, they invited her to be part of it.
“I was speechless,” said O’Hara in a DailyNorthShore.com interview. “I said yes. The next thing I did was contact our Village Administrator (Drew Irvin) and asked him to contact the police. They promptly started an investigation.”
Since the Facebook page was launched and the investigation began in June, members of the group have been sharing stories with each other, gathering information on their own and meeting with members of law enforcement, according to Jim Moss of Lake Bluff, a member of the Facebook group.
“I’ve talked to an expert who says it is very rare anyone changes this kind of behavior,” said Moss in a DNS interview November 2. “We want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other children.”
The story was first published on DNS and in the Orange County Register November 2. The teacher is identified as Charles Ritz by Moss and the Register. Lake Bluff School District 65 Superintendent Jean Sophie also named Ritz in a November 2 letter to the school community. All three sources said he worked at the school from 1975 to 1985,
O’Hara said she knew all of the students involved and feels for them. She also approves of their effort. She taught at the school from 1969 to 1988. She was principal from 1988 until she retired in 2005.
“These kids are hurting,” said O’Hara. “They are hurting 30 to 40 years later. They have a right to be heard.”
Sophie sent a letter to members of the District 65 community November 2 saying the district was cooperating with the investigation and letting recipients know Ritz was a math teacher at the middle school from 1975 to 1985. She said the district is vigilant about the people it hires and the training all employees receive.
“The district regularly conducts regular criminal background checks as part of our pre-employment process,” Sophie wrote in her letter. “In addition, all faculty and staff participate in mandatory training regarding the parameters of appropriate conduct with students and affirm their duty to immediately report any situations that could cause harm or danger to a student.”
Moss said how much pain the alleged abused may have caused is not known. He said one thing can build on another leading to a variety of behavior and mental health issues. “If this is the first pebble in the pond you cannot tell about the other ripples.”
After leaving Lake Bluff, Ritz taught in California, according to the Register story. That article contains details of some of the abuse allegations and the school district’s response at the time. It also quotes Cynthia Vargas, the communications director for Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim, as saying the statute of limitations may have been waived when Ritz left the state.
Click here to read the full Orange County Register story.