Are high schools doing enough to keep students safe?

News-DemocratFebruary 22, 2014 

Metro-east high schools have a big job -- not only are they tasked with educating students, they must keep them safe during the school day, too.

The safety of students at two high schools -- Belleville East and East St. Louis Senior High School -- was compromised late last year when two students were sexually assaulted on campus.

Administrators from both schools and local police departments are investigating the attacks and charges have been filed against suspects in both cases.

Were these isolated crimes or have other sexual assaults occurred at the high schools? To answer that question, the Belleville News-Democrat submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the East St. Louis and Belleville police departments for a log of all police calls to the schools so far this school year and for the previous two school years.

The call logs revealed sexual assaults also occurred at Belleville West as well.

"Our schools are generally very safe," Belleville School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said. "I do recognize the incident that was reported to us (on Dec. 13) is very concerning for all parents. Anytime you hear something like that happening its cause for concern."

East St. Louis School District 189 officials have described a sexual assault on Dec. 16, as an "isolated incident."

"An incident such as the one reported is something that every educator would do anything to prevent," Assistant Superintendent Beth Sheppard said. "There's no organization, there's no business, there's no city, there's no country that can 100 percent guarantee you that nothing will ever happen. ... What an organization can do is to put every procedure possible in place to prevent an occurrence of violence."

The East St. Louis Police Department provided the information requested by the BND in part. The police call log received excluded five months including December 2013, which is when the alleged criminal sexual assault occurred. It also does not include calls during January, March, April or May 2012.

East St. Louis police responded to no other criminal sexual assault calls at the high school the last two-and-a-half school years, according to the data provided by the department.

Samuel Young, 18, of the 800 block of Pershing Street in East St. Louis, was charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault in connection with the alleged rape of a 16-year-old student at East St. Louis Senior High in December. An unidentified 16-year-old juvenile also was charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault.

The Belleville Police Department provided information about all police calls to the public and private high schools in the city. A review of this information shows the incident at Belleville East on Dec. 13 is one of two criminal sexual assault calls police responded to at Belleville East in the last two-and-a-half years.

The other criminal sexual assault call occurred Dec. 12, 2011, but did not happen on campus. It occurred several years ago when the victim was allegedly assaulted by five of her cousins when she was 8 years old, according to the police report.

Belleville Police responded to three separate calls to investigate reports of criminal sexual assaults at Belleville West during that same time frame:

* May 8, 2012, an unidentified female student, a ninth-grader at the time, was allegedly sexually assaulted by an unidentified male student, an 11th-grader at the time, in the band room at Belleville West. The male student allegedly forced the female student to perform oral sex on him. The victim's mother did not want to press charges.

* Feb. 12, 2012, Belleville police began investigating then teacher Ryan Endsley for inappropriate relationships with students outside of school. Endsley, 39, of Shiloh, who no longer works for the district, received 30 months probation after pleading guilty to criminal sexual abuse, a class 4 felony.

* Nov. 18, 2011, an unidentified female student was allegedly sexually assaulted by an unidentified male student during art class. The boy allegedly put his hand in her pants and inappropriately touched her.

"We don't tolerate that kind of behavior even if its consensual," Dosier said. "If a student felt that it was an assault, we would encourage them to press charges. That kind of behavior is not acceptable."

Dosier, whose daughter is a freshman at Belleville West, said school officials "continue to work very diligently to make sure that not only everyone is safe but there is a feeling of safety, also."

According to Belleville police call logs for service, no other criminal sexual assaults have been reported at any other high schools in Belleville.

Belleville police are still investigating at incident at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville where female students at the school were allegedly secretly videotaped by members of a school sports team in May.

The police report for this case cannot be released as the investigation is ongoing, according to Belleville police spokesman Capt. Don Sax.

Other call reports

During the past two-and-a-half school years, Belleville police responded to two aggravated batteries and one aggravated assault at Belleville East and three aggravated batteries, one assault and one aggravated assault at Belleville West.

"We encourage anybody who might be a victim or feel like they are a victim (of a crime) to file a police report, because we take any of those type of situations very seriously," Dosier said.

"We believe our students are making the transition from adolescents to young adults, and we think they need to be held responsible for their actions and behaviors."

That includes bullying and fighting, he said. "It's not OK to fight any place. It shouldn't be OK to fight at school."

East St. Louis police responded to at least seven calls related to weapons at East St. Louis Senior High since January 2011: two involved weapons recovery in September 2012 and five calls were for unlawful use of a weapon, one in 2012 and four in 2013.

East St. Louis police officers also responded to two incidents of assault at the public high school, one in November 2012 and another in November 2013, and one assault at the East St. Louis Charter High School in June 2011.

At least four instances of aggravated battery occurred at the East St. Louis Senior High since 2011, according to the police call log.

Student safety

Fred Clarke, an official with District 189, said parents of students at East St. Louis Senior High School should not be concerned about the safety of their students. Clarke oversees student health and safety, among other areas for the district.

"Safety is paramount to us," Clarke said. "School is the safest place for the students to be. It's one of the safest places in the community."

Nine security guards are assigned to East St. Louis High School, also known as East Side, with an additional three security guards on call. The school also has two school resource officers who are certified officers with the East St. Louis Police Department.

Every student is required to go through a metal detector, and the school is equipped with video surveillance cameras, according to Clarke.

"It's a very, very safe environment," he said. "We really go above and beyond what other schools do."

District 189 also conducts random drug searches with dogs to send a message to students not to bring drugs to school, Sheppard said.

In cooperation with the Police Department, Clarke said the district performs active shooter drills as well.

"Schools should be an oasis where kids come, and they're safe," Sheppard said. "We try to prepare for every eventuality. We feel we have very good safety measures in place."

Like most schools, visitors to East Side High are required to check in at the office, show identification and wear numbered visitor badges. Employees and volunteers undergo fingerprinted background checks, and employees must also undergo a drug test.

"We can't take chances with students," Sheppard said. "If you're going to work with our students, you must be background checked."

District 201 has similar measures in place at Belleville East and Belleville West. Both schools have a "pretty sophisticated security camera system," Dosier said, with nearly 100 cameras on each campus.

Both schools also have a school resource officer, who is a Belleville police officer, as well as campus patrol officers.

School visitors must check in with a campus patrol officer, who scans their driver's licenses and issues temporary identification tags.

In fall 2013, Dosier said Belleville police officers and detectives toured both schools during the school day. "We addressed any of those situations that were identified to us," he said. "I feel very fortunate that we have great communication with Belleville police."

Changes in the works

District 189 is working with East St. Louis Police Department to implement an anonymous texting program, where students can notify police officers in the building of potential threats or crime occurrences.

"We're always looking for opportunities to improve the systems we have in place," Clarke said. "I'm comforted by the safety measures we have in place but always strive to make them better."

District 201 is implementing extra security measures at its Alternative Day School Program, which is on the Belleville East campus. The alleged criminal sexual assault in December occurred at the Alternative Day School and was not captured by any of the security cameras on campus, Dosier said.

"We're going to have to look at every moment of that day and make sure our kids are well protected and monitored appropriately," he said.

District 201 officials are discussing relocating the program in the future.

"When we first started, we knew its location was a temporary spot. We do continue to explore what options we have for that," Dosier said. "We do feel like its a very viable program for many kids. It provides alternatives to the regular high school program for our students."

Parents concerned

District 201 notified Belleville East parents about the sexual assault in December through an automated school reach call and sent a letter via email.

Belleville East parent Ed McCann, 54, of Swansea, said he's concerned about the safety of his son and daughter, both of whom attend Belleville East.

McCann said students in the Alternative Day School Program are not really kept separate from the rest of the students.

McCann said he was alarmed to learn a student with pending felony charges was permitted to attend the same school as his son and daughter.

McCann and others became aware of student David E. Fields' criminal history after Fields, 17, of 3536 Barton, Shiloh, was charged in connection with the Dec. 13 criminal sexual assault of a female student on campus. Earlier, in September, Fields was charged with two counts of aggravated battery and illegal possession of ammunition after St. Clair County Sheriff's deputies responded to a report of shots fired at his Shiloh home. These charges are pending with the court hearing scheduled for March 19.

McCann's son Ray, a sophomore, said Fields once asked to borrow his phone after school.

"I think the biggest thing is the person I was talking to earlier had all these pending charges. It kind of makes you wonder what other kinds of students are in that program," Ray said. "Who else can be walking around school with bad intentions?"

On Jan. 17, Fields entered a plea of not guilty on the charge of criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman in connection with the Dec. 13 incident. He was free on $75,000 bail at the time of the sexual assault in December.

Ray's older sister Marisa, a senior, said she isn't concerned about her safety. "I'm pretty comfortable around my school," she said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Search below to look up police calls since August 2011 to local high schools, colleges

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service