On Wednesday, the Tribune featured reports updating two of its major watchdog projects this year -- "Clout Goes to College," which exposed the University of Illinois admissions scandal, and "Compromised Care," which reported that elderly and disabled nursing home residents were allegedly assaulted, raped and even killed by mentally ill criminals also living in the facilities. Today we provide updates on other watchdog efforts.
1 child left behind -- now back in school
Among the memorable Tribune Watchdog reports in recent months was the story of special-education student Devon Mallard, 11, who has anxiety disorder, dyslexia and oppositional defiant disorder -- and whose needs were not being met by Chicago Public Schools. In August, the Tribune found that despite a March court order requiring the district to establish a proper education plan and provide more counseling, therapy and tutoring, nothing had happened.
Shortly after that story, the district began working with the family and its attorneys to make sure the terms of the court order were met. A settlement was reached and, though the family can't discuss it, Devon's mother, Shnette Tyler, said that for now she is happy with the outcome.
His case resolved, Devon recently returned to classes and is doing well so far. His mother said his school let him bring a guitar home this week, and he practiced for hours: "He's happy about that. He wanted to stay up all night playing it."
Still, her drawn-out experience with the school district, which began in 2007, has left her wary.
"We'll see how this goes," she said. "I just want to see him learn. That wasn't happening before."
Many other special-education disputes with the district remain unresolved. The Illinois State Board of Education said the district has "an uncommonly high number" of special-ed-related court orders out of compliance. Also, a recent report found that about half of roughly 100 district schools reviewed by state monitors were failing to give necessary services to disabled students.
Crestwood's tainted water
By Michael Hawthorne
What we found: Crestwood's secret use of a polluted well for more than two decades remained secret until April, when the Tribune reported that residents in the southwest suburb unknowingly had been drinking tainted water.
What's happened since: Federal agents raided Village Hall and launched a criminal investigation of Mayor Robert Stranczek and his father, Chester, who led the village from 1969 to 2007. A civil lawsuit by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accuses the Stranczeks and Crestwood's top water official of lying more than 120 times about the well. Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers imposed tougher penalties for misleading the public about the source of water flowing from their taps. Quinn also signed legislation that toughened the state's right-to-know law, requiring all customers of a public water system to be notified if their water is contaminated. Left unanswered is whether drinking water contaminated with vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, caused any health problems. The Illinois Department of Public Health has promised to investigate.
By Megan Twohey
What we found: The state crime lab struggled with an ongoing backlog of untested DNA, and the backlog was underreported for years. Also, the state Corrections Department and county probation departments failed to collect DNA samples from nearly 50,000 felons, as required by law. Also, suburban police departments failed to submit rape kits to the state crime lab.
What's happened since: The state crime lab says it has cut its DNA backlog with the help of federal grants and efficiency measures since our May story. At that time, Gov. Pat Quinn had authorized adding 23 forensic scientists and technicians. Three were hired, but the bad economy halted hiring. The lab says the hiring freeze may make it impossible to further cut the backlog.
On the other story, law enforcement agencies have begun efforts to collect the missing DNA samples from felons. For example, the DuPage County state's attorney sent letters to felons there saying they had 30 days to submit DNA or face court sanction.
After the third story, Downers Grove police and other departments changed policies and now submit all rape kits for testing.