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The ETHS Incident: How Does Such a Thing Happen?

Regardless of how these two high school students ended up together in a stairwell during school hours, community members share their opinions.

I was in high school once.

I did stupid things. Embarrassing things. Things I knew I shouldn’t have done. Not only do I remember these events: I have proof. I’ve been reading through all of my high school diaries, and they’re truly mortifying.

Like many of my peers, I had hormones racing through my body, which often led to feelings of confusion and, occasionally, actions that seemed almost beyond my control.

As a teenager, I believed I was invincible. Didn’t you?

Unfortunately, last week, an Evanston Township High School student allegedly believed himself invisible while engaging in a sexual encounter in a stairwell during school hours, only to be caught by an ETHS security employee.

When news first broke about the incident, it sounded like a 14-year-old boy had forced a 15-year-old girl into a sexual act against her will. As a soon-to-be high school parent, my gut reaction was, “If the school’s so big that a girl can get yanked into a dark corner and forced against her will into a situation like that, well…” It was the stuff of parental nightmares. I gather that enough parents and community members felt the same way, since ETHS quickly issued a public statement about the incident not having been a random act.

The wording was so vague: Not a random act. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean the boy picked someone intentionally – perhaps someone he knew – and forced her into an unwanted sexual situation? Does it suggest they knew each other and it was consentual?

I’ve heard it suggested that when the students were caught in that compromising position, the girl blamed the boy, merely claiming she was “forced,” perhaps out of shame or embarrassment at being discovered.

Last week I asked a few people what they thought about the situation. One woman said she didn’t understand why some people were blaming the security team for this; as she pointed out, “They were caught in the act by a security guard, weren’t they?” A little late into the process, perhaps, but caught nonetheless.

I wondered aloud if anyone thought this sort of incident might have happened before. One woman (who pointed out she’d attended an all-girls’ Catholic high school), said, “Of course it has!” The first woman then added, “When you send your kids there, just tell them not to touch the handrails...”

The fact is, Evanston Township High School is the country’s largest high school. At 65 acres, there’s literally no way every single corner of property can be monitored at every single moment. While kids will be kids, and they’ll often take risks, some risks will be more stupid and dangerous than others. It’s a high school, and these are kids.

That said, when something like this happens, we want to know why. If this was some angry boy out to do what he pleased, regardless of the consequences, who or what is to “blame”? His parents? His educational system? His decision-making skills? Why on earth would a 14-year-old do something like this to anyone, let alone in a public place during school hours?

Does something like this make ETHS a “bad school”? Is nearby Stevenson High School a “bad school” because one of its administrators was recently caught texting inappropriate messages to a student? Is one situation worse than the other?

I’ve been inside Evanston Township High School recently to drop off forms for my incoming freshman, and I had to stop in the Security Office before going anywhere else. From what I observed, there’s a system in place that tracks students’ whereabouts non-stop. Kids are not permitted out of their classrooms without specific permission and an intended destination. And so, how did this incident happen in the first place?

I don’t know the kids involved in the ETHS incident, but I wonder how they’re doing. The boy was allegedly arrested and the girl is presumed to be a victim. I cannot imagine what either one is going through. I also wonder if and how the school can assure a community that something like this – no matter what transpired, be it assault, misconduct, etc. – will never happen again.   

As mentioned, I was a high schooler once, but my indiscretions were never the subject of columns in the local online news sources and beyond … thank goodness. No matter how much old dirt I dig up in my childhood diaries, the incident at ETHS, no matter what happened, strikes me as truly mortifiying.

lilian darcey April 26, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I'm a recent grad of this school and my brothers went here. I can tell you the school is on the decline. The school is becoming more and more like CPS(CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS). There is more disruptions, discipline problems and fights. The academic bar has been lowered and there are people who are in advanced classes that shouldn't be. I can tell who they are and they slow the class down. Our ratings in this state have slipped we aren't in the top like we used to be. ETHS needs a selective enrollment high school and an alternative school for kids with discipline problems. I'm curious to know the background of the perp of this crime. The school just is too big and should be broken up. My heart aches for the girl that had this happened to her. Although I'm out of school my mother still is very upset, and will have to move when my sister reaches high school age because my parents can't afford private schools.
Christine Wolf April 26, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Hi, Lilian. Thanks for sharing your opinion. Since you've been on "the inside" recently, what (if anything) do you think the administration could or should do in order to raise the academic bar? Do you think any of the kids with discipline issues learn positive behavior from the kids without such challenges? On a separate note, what was your favorite memory of going to ETHS?
Richard Schulte April 26, 2012 at 10:50 PM
"Although I'm out of school my mother still is very upset, and will have to move when my sister reaches high school age because my parents can't afford private schools." Your parents wouldn't have to move if an educational voucher system was in place. With a voucher system, parents would be given a voucher to spend on education for their children as they fit. An educational voucher system would allow more parents to choose private education over public education. If a voucher system were in place, ETHS would have to improve or risk losing most of its students to private schools. And that folks, is the free market system at work and why teachers' unions oppose voucher systems. At present, the goal at ETHS is mediocrity because their is no competition. My son's education at Baker Demonstration School (BDS) was vastly superior to the public elementary schools in Evanston. I never had to worry about my son after I dropped him off at Baker-I knew he was in good hands. It cost me a total of $72 thousand to send my son to BDS for 9 years, however, I understant that the tuition at BDS has sky-rocketed since he graduated from BDS in 2000.
laura April 27, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Excellent point.
Natasha September 27, 2012 at 09:56 PM
They do need to brake the school, it's too big to monitor it properly. Should put more cameras, may be hire couple extra officers for a better patrol. Check attendance ......

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