No charges in District 304 ‘Pledge’ incident

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 7:23 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – There will be no criminal charges filed against the parent involved in an incident last week at Mill Creek Elementary School.

In a news release issued Friday, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said that the man, 41-year-old Colin McGroarty, “certainly showed a gross lack of judgment” and the behavior was “lacking in even the most basic common sense,” but McGroarty’s actions were not criminal.

McGroarty, whose children attend the school, became upset Jan. 9 when he said kindergartners left the word “liberty” out of the pledge. McGroarty, who had been volunteering at the school on a weekly basis, said after students said the pledge, they recited the school’s creed. McGroarty took issue with the students reciting the creed after the pledge.

McGroarty sent emails to school officials and parents after the incident, and he posted his thoughts on his Facebook page. In the emails, he wrote that as a U.S. Army veteran, he shed blood for his country “and will do so again if necessary.”

Geneva School District 304 ultimately issued a no-trespass order, so McGroarty could not go on its property without being arrested. The district also called for an increased police presence at its schools.

“He compounded the situation by emailing a note about the incident to other school parents and by making additional statements about the incident via social media,” McMahon said in the release. “But his behavior, although inappropriate, irresponsible and lacking in even the most basic common sense, was not criminal conduct.”

McGroarty said Friday he would have been surprised if he had been charged with any crimes. He said he did not agree with McMahon’s statements about his behavior.

“I disagree with him, and I will pray for him,” McGroarty said.

McMahon noted the Kane County Sheriff’s Office conducted a full investigation and had interviewed witnesses and school officials who were in the building. The investigators also reviewed other statements and information that was relevant to the investigation.

Lt. Pat Gengler, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said there were questions at the beginning about why deputies took such a proactive approach.

“It all comes down to the kids,” he said.

According to a statement from District 304, school officials were grateful to the sheriff’s office and the state’s attorney’s office for their assistance. The district also thanked the Geneva Police Department for providing extra presence in the schools.

“Though it has been determined by the State’s Attorney’s Office that this individual’s actions and statements following the incident were not criminal in nature, they did disrupt the school day, were perceived by many as alarming, and created an atmosphere of uneasiness in our school, our district, and our community. Geneva School District has permanently prohibited this individual from entering school property,” the statement said.

“Particularly in the current climate of school violence, the disruption of the school environment will not be tolerated. As has been reiterated several times in recent months, the safety of our students and staff has been and will remain a top priority in Geneva School District.”

McGroarty said as one of the few male parents who regularly volunteer at Mill Creek, he was disappointed that he would not be allowed on school property again.

“What saddens me is that I have no idea what my children are promising because I’m not there to see it,” he said.

When the investigation was complete, the state’s attorney’s office reviewed the facts and findings with sheriff’s investigators and determined that the individual’s conduct, although disconcerting, was not criminal, the release stated, adding the sheriff’s investigators and Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez were in agreement with this conclusion.

“The investigation revealed that the learning environment was never unlawfully disrupted, nor was the safety of the students, teachers or anyone else ever at risk,” McMahon said in the release. “Because of this individual’s actions, Geneva Community Unit School District 304 has permanently prohibited him from setting foot on district property. That would seem to be the most appropriate response to this incident. … The safety of the students and teachers at every school in our community is – and will continue to be – of paramount importance to all of us in Kane County who work to protect the public.”

McGroarty said he still feels strongly about children saying the correct Pledge of Allegiance and being told to recite the school’s creed.

“I feel strongly that if a child is being led in any way ... you really should have parents’ approval so they’re aware of what’s being promised,” he said.

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