Lake Park superintendent: Coach, principal, AD all made mistakes in letting convicted sex offender volunteer
The controversy that rocked Lake Park High School over a volunteer football coach could have been avoided at several points if the head coach and two top administrators followed the school's accepted practices for conducting background checks, Superintendent Lynn Panega said Friday.
Lake Park High School District 108 officials on Thursday announced the removal of Chris Roll as head coach of the Roselle school's football team. In addition, they said Principal Dominic Manola and Athletic Director Pete Schauer will be disciplined.
Roll continues to teach social studies at the school and returned to the classroom Friday. Manola and Schauer also returned to their administrative positions.
On Friday, Panega said the disciplinary steps resulted from an internal investigation that began last month when officials learned a convicted sex offender was serving as a volunteer football coach.
The volunteer, Frank J. Battaglia, 72, was allowed to work with this year's Lancers despite having pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a high school girl in the early 1990s.
District practices call for all volunteer coaches to undergo criminal background checks before the start of the season. But Panega said Roll directed an assistant coach to remove Battaglia from the list of names submitted to human resources.
"It is the responsibility of the head coach to ensure names are submitted to HR for background checks," Panega said.
She said she doesn't know why Roll directed the assistant to remove Battaglia's name.
A spokeswoman for the union representing Lake Park's teachers said the association does not comment on personnel matters. Roll himself on Friday emailed, "I've been asked not to comment now that I am back in the classroom."
Based on the investigation, Panega said it appears a member of the Lancers' coaching staff reached out to Battaglia before the season started and offered him a volunteer post.
Battaglia had never volunteered with the team before and it's unclear which coach contacted him.
His involvement with the team went unnoticed until the Lancers were playing St. Charles North on Sept. 28, Panega said. A school board member attending the game approached Principal Manola and told him Battaglia had a background that could prevent him from working with student-athletes.
"They also engaged in a conversation regarding the required background checks," Panega said. "The board member brought up our process for requiring background checks."
Manola told the board member such checks are done on all volunteer and paid coaches. Panega said Manola assumed at the time Battaglia had undergone such a check.
"That's where Dominic accepts responsibility," Panega said. "He should have followed up."
Schauer's mistake came in October, when he questioned Roll about Battaglia's background, Panega said. Roll told the athletic director Battaglia "had limited contact with students and that he primarily worked with the coaches," she said.
"Based on that misleading information," she said, "Pete Schauer indicated that perhaps a full process was not needed for this individual."
Panega said Schauer has since acknowledged he made a mistake.
The administration is recommending the school board approve disciplinary notices for Schauer and Roll, Pangea said. The notices outline professional expectations moving forward.
"It focuses on maintaining a positive learning environment and assurances there will not be any disruptions to the learning environment," she said.
Because Manola is a nontenured employee, he will be given a disciplinary write-up.
Panega said the past two weeks have been very difficult for the Lake Park community.
"We have a lot of Lancer pride," she said, "and we're used to celebrating all of the greatness and the accomplishments of our students and staff. So this has been difficult for everyone.
"We are ready to move forward."