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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.

annie April 23, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I am thinking that ETHS should make the consequences rather severe, so it does not happen again. Sexual misconduct & consequences are covered in the school handbook, The Pilot, which is online in English and Spanish. Every year a new crew of kids walks thru the door and who knows what they are thinking? The security guards can't be everywhere at all times and I bet each and every one of them has a horror story working with kids and "incidents".
J C April 23, 2012 at 01:21 PM
I was ETHS class of 76, And do I have some stories ....!
Christine Wolf April 23, 2012 at 01:29 PM
What's a favorite you can share? :)
Richard Schulte April 23, 2012 at 01:31 PM
"Why on earth would a 14-year-old do something like this to anyone, let alone in a public place during school hours?" President Bill Clinton told us that it was OK back in the late 1990's. So did Congressman Anthony Weiner just a year ago. It's not what adults say, it's what adults actually do that teaches our children what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Thanks Slick Willie for setting such a fine example for our children.
annie April 23, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Kids push the limits to see how far they can go......! They don't have insight to see what can happen. Most kids don't know or care what the politicians are doing.
Jim April 23, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Why should anyone be surprised? We live in a sexualized society in which selfishness and rudeness prevails.
Allie Payne April 23, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I thought I was living on the edge for kissing ------------- by the upstairs theatre!
MrsSmith April 23, 2012 at 03:26 PM
ETHS is huge. Unless there is a guard on every landing of every stairwell and in every hallway, there is no way to prevent EVERYTHING. I agree with the woman who does not blame security. The guard DID catch the kids and was obviously patrolling as he is supposed to do. You can't catch someone before the act.
Mayre Press April 23, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Hello people...we live in a society that is saturated with reality TV programming. Children are exposed to sexually explicit behavior on a daily basis. If you think most families use parental controls for TV and computer viewing, you're wrong. Reality TV has made millionaires out of no name/no talent people who gained fame and fortune through their skills at exhibitionism. About a decade ago, a resident in my condo building found a couple of middle school kids in the act (yes, preteens/yes, sex) in the courtyard bushes off of Oakton St. I'm not condoning what happened at ETHS, but I'm inclined to think the act was consentual and not the fault of school security. If you're concerned about such behavior, turn off the TV/computer and hand your kids a book to read. Better yet, talk to them about the consequences of reckless behavior in public.
Meghan Vinson April 23, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I'm a graduate of ETHS and after living in a variety of other cities my husband and I decided to move back to Evanston because this is where we wanted to raise our kids. Much of that decision was based on the amazing 4 years I spent at ETHS. The quality of the education (I was in both honors and regular classes) and the experience of being in the one place that really brings all of Evanston together, is something that I want my children to have too. I was well-prepared both academically and socially for college and for the messy, complex real word. There are many other Evanston grads who feel the same way and even take it a step further by coming back to work and teach at what we affectionatly call, "The High School." I hope those of you who are voicing concerns about the safety and quality of education at the high school will take the opportunity to attend one of the upcoming "Community Conversations" with Dr. Witherspoon. A schedule of these events can be found online. http://www.eths.k12.il.us/community_conversations_with_eths_will_answer_questions_from_prospective_families/
Christine Wolf April 23, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy both set pretty good examples, too. http://politicalwire.com/archives/2011/04/20/the_most_sexually_promiscuous_president.html
Barbara Stison April 24, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Either way, sex in a stairwell of a school is not OK, but there is a huge difference between consensual sex and rape or sexual assault. Women get raped by people who know them, including husbands and boyfriends, fathers, step-fathers and brothers, all the time. The fact that they knew each other gives me no comfort at all.
victoria smith April 24, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I too was an ETHS graduate(73) and believe me there was more going on outside on the grounds of the school than this stairway incident. I don't blame the security guards in any way, they can't be every where at all times. I find the story not very convincing at all. I think they just got caught and because the consequences would be great, one party decided to call foul play and be the victim. I appologize if I am wrong, but it doesn't add up in my book. Kids today are more sexual than they were back in the day and they do not hesitate to demonstrate either. It is what it is and it's to bad that they feel they have to grow up so fast.
Festus McMoron April 25, 2012 at 12:17 PM
....did anyone ever get the full details from their kids? I heard the charges were/will be dropped. the victim was as guilty as her 'attacker'.
Tim Nevel April 25, 2012 at 03:49 PM
just a couple of horny kids. rent Porky's if you are having a hard time understanding the situation
Richard Schulte April 25, 2012 at 05:13 PM
If that were the case, then it would seem that this would be happening all of the time, but it doesn't. "just a couple of horny kids" is just an excuse that adults use to shirk their responsibility for sexualizing our children.
annie April 25, 2012 at 05:22 PM
After talking with a few of my friends who did go to ETHS, in the 70s & 80s, it has been happening for years..... This time its just out in the open. And again, it's a couple of kids. Not the whole school.
Nancy Traver April 26, 2012 at 03:23 PM
I didn't know ETHS is the biggest school in the nation. I'll have to check out that fact. All I know is that it was too big for my daughter. Some of her classes had 45 kids in them. Most of her teachers were overworked and impersonal -- too busy to care about one failing student. Now she's at a private school, where we were lucky to get financial aid so she could attend. The huge-school model of ETHS doesn't work for all students.
Christine Wolf April 26, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Hi, Nancy. I totally agree with you that ETHS is not for everyone. It will be interesting to see where each of my 3 children end up for high school, as they're all so different. And, from Wikipedia: "With a campus currently listed as 65 acres (263,000 m²)...and with more than 2 million square feet (180,000 m²) indoors, it is the largest high school facility under one roof in the United States. The school's science facilities include a planetarium, greenhouse, and a two acre (8,000 m²), on-site nature center/classroom. The Bacon Computer Center (BCC) houses over 200 computers in seven networked labs. Computer software is available for many courses in the curriculum."
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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