breaks

Longtime Fenwick High School teacher on leave following complaint from former student

longtime-fenwick-high-school-teacher-on-leave-following-complaint-from-former-student

A longtime teacher and former coach at Fenwick High School in Oak Park was placed on administrative leave this week in the wake of a complaint from a former student alleging inappropriate behavior.

In a letter sent to Fenwick parents earlier this week, the Rev. Richard Peddicord, the Catholic high school’s president, said “a Fenwick alumna posted a video detailing her experience as a student at Fenwick and our handling of a serious matter involving a faculty member.”

“Please be assured that we took, and are taking, her allegations seriously and the inquiry into the incidents she describes is ongoing,” Peddicord said.

“Fenwick has been in contact with the Oak Park Police Department regarding this matter. Their investigation concluded this past fall, and no charges were brought,” Peddicord said.

The Tribune is not naming the teacher because he has not been charged with a crime. Peddicord confirmed Friday the teacher had been placed on administrative leave.

The teacher issued a statement through an attorney Friday denying the allegations, saying he has “never abused a Fenwick student, at any time or in any place.” The statement said the teacher had won numerous teaching awards over his more-than-40-year career, and that he “looks forward to continuing in the profession to which he has devoted his entire career.”

Oak Park spokesman David Powers said a police report was filed last September by a former Fenwick student, alleging a series of incidents involving the teacher dating back to 2013 through 2014.

The evidence did not support a felony complaint, and the incidents were outside the statute of limitations, Powers said, adding there was no arrest or charges, and the investigation has since been closed.

In a police report obtained through a public records request, the alleged victim — who identified herself to the Tribune in a Friday interview as 26-year-old Helen Quinn Pasin — describes approximately “five to 10 encounters” with the teacher that she told police “made her feel uncomfortable.”

According to the police report, Pasin alleged the teacher “was known to be overly friendly with students by putting his arm around the necks of students as he was standing on the side of them.”

Pasin told police she felt the teacher was “overly aggressive with her and would put his arm around her neck with such force it would pull her body closer to his … ultimately making cheek-to-cheek contact with her,” according to the report.

Pasin told police the “occurrences were unwanted and made her feel uncomfortable,” including one alleged encounter with the teacher in the basement of the high school following an event, where the teacher allegedly “approached her putting his arm around her neck like he had in the past and pulled her close to him, commenting ‘what is your love life like?’ and ‘you are so beautiful.’”

Pasin told police she replied she was not interested in love or relationships like that, and the teacher allegedly replied “well we should change that,” according to the report.

Pasin said in a YouTube video posted earlier this week that after police closed the investigation, she emailed the school in December detailing the allegations. While she got a response within a few days, she said she was unhappy with the lawyer the school chose to investigate. She later agreed to an interview, but the school “ghosted” her for two months until last week, she said. At that point she was no longer willing to sit for an interview, and she posted the video as an “absolute last resort,” she said.

In a Friday interview, Pasin, a recent graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a documentary filmmaker, said the video of her sharing her story has been viewed more than 30,000 times.

“His behavior was so normalized when I was at Fenwick, that I didn’t think it was a big enough deal to say anything, but as an adult, I understand it is a big deal,” Pasin said.

Pasin, who describes herself on her website as a feminist documentary filmmaker who has produced videos about the #MeToo Movement, recalled pulling court documents at the courthouse during her journalism program, and having “a really hard wake-up call.”

“The most important thing to me is educating the community about what their rights are, and if they have a complaint about a teacher at the high school, in my experience, they need to go directly to the Oak Park Police Department,” Pasin said.

kcullotta@chicagotribune.com

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