A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday says two Evanston Township High School security guards had sex with female students and the school failed to adequately protect girls from predators.
The 22-page suit says school officials knew or should have known the staffers posed a risk at the 3,600-student Evanston campus.
The lawsuit was filed months after the school settled litigation that accused a former drama teacher of abusing male students in the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the security guards, Michael B. Haywood, was arrested in February on suspicion of sexually abusing a student from the high school. Tuesday’s lawsuit also raises the possibility of more victims and another purported predator among the school’s security staff.
Cook County prosecutors charged Haywood, 34, of Evanston, with sexual assault by a person in position of authority for a 2018 incident with a 17-year-old female student. She is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which says Haywood “groomed” a different student — the plaintiff in the case — in 2018 and 2019 when she was 17. It says Haywood engaged in “unwanted and unauthorized sexual and other contact” more than 40 times with the girl, several times at the school.
The lawsuit says Haywood began sexually targeting the plaintiff, who graduated in June and is now 18, and at least two other students soon after the school hired him in 2018. It said the school didn’t fully inform parents of the allegations against Haywood after firing him in January.
The named defendants include Evanston Township High School District 202 and the city of Evanston. The suit seeks damages for “willful, reckless and negligent conduct in refusing to address systemic failures and documented patterns and practices of sexual abuse of minor female students.”
City officials wouldn’t comment.
Andrew M. Stroth, the lead attorney for the plaintiff, said it appeared to be an “open secret” among staffers that Haywood had an inappropriate relationship with his client for months but that some chose to keep quiet.
Stroth said there are indications the security guards allegedly targeted other girls at the school. “There are three that we know of for sure,” he said. “But our belief is there are even more.”
A school staffer’s call to Evanston police in January initiated the investigation of Haywood, who has pleaded not guilty and been placed on electronic monitoring, police said after Haywood was charged in February.
The lawsuit says texts Haywood sent to the plaintiff suggest he believed staffers were suspicious. One text Haywood sent to her said “a couple teachers mentioned you always looking at me a certain way and you being around (me) a lot,” according to the suit, which was filed in federal court in Chicago.
The lawsuit says the other security guard — who hasn’t been charged — engaged “in over 50 acts of unwanted and unauthorized sexual acts” with the same girl in 2015 and 2016 when she was as young as 15. The district fired him in 2016.
When Evanston Township school Supt. Eric Witherspoon announced in January that the district had settled a suit related to allegations against the drama teacher, he said it had agreed to spend $100,000 to improve existing programs “that address sexual assault awareness, reporting and prevention.”
“The school district reemphasizes its empathy for any individuals that may have been victimized and is grateful a resolution could be reached that benefits ETHS students and the greater Evanston school community,” Witherspoon said then.
In settling that suit, the school admitted no wrongdoing and denied officials had knowledge of any abuse.
The drama teacher, who retired in 1998, was never charged. After an investigation, police and prosecutors said evidence of alleged abuse was discovered but that the timeframe for filing charges had had expired. The teacher has denied abusing anyone.