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No criminal charges in Mill Creek Elementary 'Pledge' incident

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

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

McGroarty, whose children attend the school, became upset on Jan. 9, when he said kindergartners left the word "liberty" out of the pledge. McGroarty, who said he had been volunteering at the school on a weekly basis, said that 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 also posted thoughts on his Facebook page regarding the incident. 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."

School District 304 ultimately issued a no-trespass order, so that McGroarty could not come on its property without being arrested. The district also called for an increased police presence at all of 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 that 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 that 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, McMahon said in the release.

Lt. Pat Gengler, spokesman for the Kane County Sheriff's Department, said there were a lot of 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 said they were grateful to the Kane County Sheriff's Department and the Kane County State's Attorney's Office for their assistance. The district also thanked the Geneva Police Department for providing extra presence in their 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 says.

"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 Kane County 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 that 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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