LAKE BLUFF — A Lake Bluff man who said he was abused by a teacher nearly 40 years ago when he was a student at what was then called Lake Bluff Junior High School wants School District 65 to conduct an independent investigation into what happened to ensure it is never repeated.
During a board meeting on Feb. 14, Jim Moss handed the Board of Education a petition signed by more than 300 people asking for an investigation and other remedial action.
A current Lake Bluff resident, Moss said he was abused by Charles Ritz in 1978 when Moss was a student at the school, which is now called Lake Bluff Middle School. Ritz taught at the school from 1975 through 1985, according to Moss in a Nov. 2 DailyNorthShore.com story.
Moss told the board he is part of a victim group with members still feeling the effects of what happened to them when they were students in Lake Bluff. He asked the board in the petition to appoint a special investigative counsel to learn what happened and recommend steps to ensure it does not happen in the future.
“The victim group has an inordinate number of people in therapy, people challenged to maintain relationships and jobs and people with alcohol and drug addictions,” said Moss. “The parents, spouses and siblings of the victims will tell you the victims have never been the same since junior high.”
Since allegations against Ritz first became public in June, the Lake Bluff Police Department started a criminal investigation, which is ongoing, according to Chief David Belmonte. He said the inquiry is taking longer than usual because of the lapse of time.
“Because of nature of the allegations we have to make sure we do a thorough job and cover all the leads we have,” said Belmonte.
Lake County State’s Attorney Investigates
Belmonte said the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office is involved in the investigation. Cindy Vargas, the communications manager for Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim, said the office cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.
District 65 Superintendent Jean Sophie said in an email to DNS the district does not want to interfere with the existing proceedings. She limited her comments to those contained in a letter sent to the district community and posted on its website. Click here to read the entire letter.
The letter lays out the current procedures that are followed to screen potential employees of the district, including fingerprint-based background checks, searches of sex offender databases and checks of those sources to ensure no registered offenders live within 500 feet of any of the district’s schools.
Faculty and staff are also required to attend training, according to the letter. All district staff members are required to report evidence or suspicion of abuse to Illinois Department of Family Services.
“In the decades that have passed since Mr. Ritz left our district, the legal landscape has evolved to provide additional protections for students,” Sophie said in the email. “We utilize resources to ensure that only well-vetted educators join our district and are recommended to other districts by us.”
Vargas declined to comment when asked if those laws or similar ones were in effect when Ritz was employed by the district. Belmonte said if there is a report of abuse made to the Department of Children and Family Services, the matter goes directly to the local police department and is investigated in cooperation with the Children’s Advocacy Center of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Moss said he is pleased the district has become more vigilant but he wants to know what will be done for the people who are still suffering from Ritz’s alleged abuse.
Moss: Past Victims Deserve Help
“They don’t seem they want to provide resources or outreach to victims,” said Moss. “That doesn’t seem to be in the purview of their consciousness.”
After Ritz left Lake Bluff, he spent 30 years teaching in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District in California before retiring in May, according to a Feb. 8 story in the Orange County Register.
The Fullerton district received the same petition Moss presented in Lake Bluff Feb. 8, according to the Register article. That district announced it will hire a special investigative counsel requested in the petition. The Register story reported there are no sexual abuse complaints about Ritz known by the district. Police in California declined to say if there is an investigation.
In the petition, which Moss said he wrote, it says an independent investigator is important to ensure impartiality. He said the counsel should investigate what District 65 did or did not know about Ritz at the time.
“Outside parties in leadership roles help ensure the review process will be prompt, that assessments are thorough, that there is accountability for all findings and corrective responses and importantly that the process is independent to remove any appearance of a conflict of interest by current members of the administration,” the petitioners wrote.
Click here to read Moss’s complete statement.
Click here to read the petition.
Click here to read the entire Orange County Register story.