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Digging Deeper: Why parents could be last to know if a teacher is under investigation for sexual assault

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NORMAL (WEEK) – Parents are upset they weren’t told sooner – that teacher Jonathan Hovey, on unpaid leave since August – was accused of sexually assaulting one of his students.

Those feelings were amplified when they found it wasn’t the first time he faced this type of accusation.

Hovey, a man responsible for shaping young minds is currently being accused of abusing his students’ trust.

The first grade teacher in Normal is facing several charges of predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The most recent allegation, allegedly involved a young girl under the age of 13.

“It makes me very sick to think a person put in that position as a teacher would do something like that,” said Trish Fink, a parent and former educator.

Hovey was escorted out of his Glenn Elementary School classroom in April and put on paid leave. His pay has been cut off as police work the case.

It took four months for parents to find out about the investigation. Nina Gougis, a local attorney, said that is considered a quick turnaround.

Many parents were shocked to find out the district didn’t violate any laws by waiting to break the news.

“Part of me feels like that can’t be the case,” said Hayley Woods, a mother of four. “Surely that can’t be true.”

“Illinois Personnel Records Review Act limits who has access to certain information, especially disciplinary,” Gougis said.

The act also safeguards the district or any employer from facing a lawsuit. Think about it. If the minute someone accused you of something terrible and your employer told people before investigating…they could be liable for defamation.

We asked Fink if there was a situation where, as a parent and an educator, she could understand if her child’s school didn’t notify her of a sexual abuse claim against a teacher right away.

She answered without hesitation. “No! As a parent, I would want to know right away, so I can do what I think is best for my child.”

Four pages of indictments describe the actions Hovey allegedly took – placing a child’s hand on his genitals for sexual gratification or arousal and putting his hand on a little girl’s vagina, for the same reason.

“Allegations like this can be very damaging so we wanna protect their privacy and confidentiality,” said Curt Richardson, lawyer for Unit 5. “At the same time, we wanna protect our students.

“It is a thin line,” Gougis said. “You want to make sure that a thorough investigation is conducted and sometimes releasing that information could get in the way of that.”

That explains why 14 years ago, when Normal police and DCFS investigated Hovey for accusations of inappropriately touching a seven-year-old, Hovey could keep his job.

“Charges were not filed in that situation,” Richardson said. “So I don’t know any more of the history beyond that.”

Richardson couldn’t offer many details about the accusations from 2005, adding the current school administration wasn’t employed there at the time.

But he assured families the district cooperated with the police.

Richardson said Hovey was subjected to a background check before he was hired, but that was almost 20 years ago.

“A lot can happen in 18 years,” Fink said.

John Funk, a grandfather of three young children, was astonished when he learned that during Hovey’s tenure, the school district wasn’t required to re-screen him.

“I think it should be law,” he stated adamantly.

The school district does have what’s called a reciprocal reporting agreement with local authorities, which allows police to notify schools if a teacher is investigated for any reason. It’s not a law, but it is an official program in place that allows both agencies to swap information for safety purposes.

But for parents, realizing they still wouldn’t be told – unless there’s an arrest or conviction – isn’t good enough.

“We’re not talking about a speeding ticket,” Fink said. “We’re talking about a heinous crime against innocent children.”

It wasn’t until this August that Illinois statute required updated background checks on all teachers every five years. The law is effective immediately, but Unit 5 says they are still working with the Illinois State Board of Education to understand what the time frame is for them to complete that for all employees.

One takeaway however; if your child’s teacher was investigated for a sexual assault – but never arrested or convicted – they could still be teaching.

Jason Howell

Producer at 25 News and Heart of Illinois ABC

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