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Whitnall parents express anger over late sex crime report

March 26, 2013

Greenfield - Whitnall School Superintendent Lowell Holtz's explanation of why the district did not immediately tell parents about a food service director's arrest for child enticement angered some at a special meeting held Monday

Holtz said early information provided by police that the arrest did not directly affect the district and his concern to give the most complete and accurate account were the reasons why parents were not officially informed about the Feb. 23 arrest until March 5.

In fact, the district was not informed about the arrest that took place in Whitefish Bay, well outside the district, until two days later.

Slow response

The result was that WISN aired a television story the day before the parents officially were notified, and a previous Facebook posting touched off what parents called a social media firestorm among students.

Those among a group of fewer than 40 parents attending the meeting said the district should have alerted them much sooner.

"Not knowing until so much later is a problem," said Tracy Trensch, the parent of children in elementary school, middle school and high school. "It's really an issue of trust."

Holtz said that, in hindsight, he would have given broad details immediately,

"No one made the decision to not inform parents," Holtz said. "We wanted to make sure we had complete and accurate information. I know it was frustrating to hear this from the media first, and for that I apologize."

The arrest

James Heidke, 55, a three-year food service director in the district, was employed by Whitnall's food management company, A'viands. He was arrested Feb. 23 in Whitefish Bay and charged with using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. The sting operation was conducted by the Intelligence Fusion Center's High Technology Unit, a division of the Milwaukee Police Department.

Heidke, a resident of Milwaukee's East Side, was actually communicating with an undercover police officer posing as a 15-year-old boy when he was arrested. He had already sent the "boy" two nude photos of men.

He told police he intended to bring the "boy" back to his home near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and possibly have oral sex with him. Police searched the home, finding a basement with subdued lighting and sex articles, including a neck collar and sling used in certain sex acts.

If found guilty, Heidke could face up to a 40-year sentence.

Broader issues

Whitnall parents also questioned how much access Heidke had to students over the past three years, and whether his work computer contained any information that linked him to students or their personal information.

Holtz's March 5 email to parents characterized Heidke's student access as "limited." The superintendent said the wording might have been better selected after parents noted that Heidke, although not near students throughout the day, was near them each day.

Heidke's computer, Holtz said, has been secured and will be taken by police for the criminal investigation. He also noted that the Greenfield Police Department offered to act as a liaison to Whitnall for any current or future investigation occurring outside the district that may have a local impact.

"That's extremely helpful," Holtz told the audience.

Trensch said parents are concerned about what kind of results may occur from any unknown contact between Heidke and current or past students.

"This could be like the Archdiocese or Penn State when we may not know for 10 years about abuse that may have occurred," she said.

LuAnn Bird, a new resident of Hales Corners who is running unopposed for the Whitnall School Board and who attended Monday's meeting, said the parental anger toward the district did not dampen her enthusiasm to serve.

"They needed to have this exchange," said Bird, who previously served on a school board in Oshkosh and is a professional board consultant. "In the end, they need to feel good about the district and confident that things will be done differently if there ever is a next time."

More to come

After the meeting, board members met in closed session reportedly to discuss the matter but did not make any public statement.

Board President Nancy Zaborowski previously said the district would develop a new communication policy over the next two months. She said it will include the frequency of employee background checks, another concern parents voiced at Monday's meeting.

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