OSWEGO, Ill. (WLS) -- A former Oswego East High school student has accused a former teacher of grooming and sexual assault, and has now filed a lawsuit.
Because he has not been criminally charged, ABC7 is not naming the teacher in question. We can tell you, however, he no longer teaches at Oswego East and his Illinois teaching license has been revoked.
Diana Mondragon said she was first groomed and then eventually sexually abused by her English teacher 18 years ago. She began a relationship with him as a minor that carried on into her early 20s.
"I was feeling very insecure, very vulnerable, very lonely. And he was, he was a teacher who just made me feel seen and special," she said.
It wasn't until nearly two years ago that Mondragon said she understood what had happened to her. Around that time, she said she received a message from a woman in Iowa having a reckoning of her own.
"I didn't know if there was another victim but I always assumed that there was. And I just kind of had a moment where everything clicked. And i realized that I had been groomed and sexually assaulted," said Sarah Hedlund.
The lawsuit filed by Mondragon's attorneys Thursday extensively quotes a 34-page report they said Oswego Community Unit School District 308 concluded in2023.
"District officials and staff were made aware that he had an improper relationship with students. Saw red flags, saw alarm signs that [the teacher] was abusing students and they did nothing," said attorney Cass Casper of Disparti Law Group.
The teacher in question was only put on leave in the fall of 2022, shortly after Mondragon filed her complaint with the school board and the police. Hedlund concurrently took the same steps in Iowa.
"I wanted to come forward and be public about it to hopefully get more people to come forward," Mondragon said. "The teacher-student relationship is romanticized in movies and books and film. It's not normal. It's abuse."
The school district said they have not yet seen the lawsuit, while at the same time condemning the incident and repeating much of what was previously addressed by the superintendent during a school board meeting last September.
"The teacher involved will not only be permanently barred from teaching within our district, but will also face comprehensive restrictions that prevent them from teaching anywhere else within the state or country," said Supt. Andalib Khelghati.
While both Mondragon and the School District say the Aurora Police Department was investigating the incident, it is not immediately clear whether that investigation continues. In the Iowa case, the statute of limitations precludes the former teacher from being punished either criminally or in civil court.
Oswego Community Unit School District 308 has been made aware of a complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois this morning against the District and Board of Education on behalf of a former Oswego East High School student, due to grooming and sexual abuse of that student during the mid-2000s, by former staff member Justin Query. The district has not yet been served with a copy of the complaint.
When district officials first became aware of the grooming/abuse allegations in 2022, the teacher was immediately placed on leave, and remained on leave without student contact or interaction pending an internal investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, in 2023, his employment with SD 308 ended. The District ensured that the teacher's Illinois professional educator license was no longer active and that his name was added to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Clearinghouse.
Dr. Khelghati's strong statement and condemnation of grooming and sexual abuse of students, which he shared at a Board meeting following the completion of district's investigation, are sentiments shared across the district and by the Board of Education. "A teacher failed to prioritize student safety by engaging in grooming behavior with a student. Our district wholeheartedly supports the victim, recognizing the immense courage it takes to come forward in such difficult circumstances. In response to this serious breach of trust, the teacher involved will not only be permanently barred from teaching within our district but will also face comprehensive restrictions that prevent them from teaching anywhere else within the state or country and will be issued a no trespass letter to never be on SD 308 grounds again."
The July 2023 implementation of Faith's Law in Illinois (Public Act 102-0702) puts into place reporting responsibilities for each level of administration of teaching licenses and employment with children. The statute equips schools across Illinois with better information regarding the employment history of an applicant or employee of a contractor; gives schools the resources necessary to make well-informed decisions about who they are employing/contracting with; and protects students from acts of sexual misconduct by school employees, substitute employees, and employees of contractors.
The safety, security, and well-being of our students are non-negotiable priorities for Oswego Community Unit School District 308. We will continue to take all necessary measures to create an environment where every student can learn and thrive without fear. This unfortunate incident serves as a solemn reminder of the importance of our ongoing commitment to student safety, and we will relentlessly pursue this mission to the fullest extent possible.