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Elgin mom accuses U-46 of violating daughter's rights
8th grader arrested, suspended over missing sunglasses
By Kerry Lester | Daily Herald Staff

Rochell Raymond, left, and daughter Olivia. The Elgin family says Olivia's rights were violated after she was accused of stealing an Ellis Middle School teacher's sunglasses.

 

Courtesy of Rochell Raymond

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Published: 5/13/2010 12:07 AM

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An Elgin mother believes her daughter's efforts to do the right thing caused her rights to be violated by Elgin police and school officials.

Olivia Raymond, a 13-year-old Ellis Middle School student, is facing a felony theft charge after a teacher accused her of stealing her pair of sunglasses last week. Elgin Deputy Police Chief Cecil Smith confirmed Raymond's arrest but declined to comment further because the case involves a juvenile.

Elgin Area School District U-46 also declined to disclose details of the case, citing student privacy. But on a school discipline referral form, orchestra teacher Linda Szybeko wrote about Raymond, "She stole my prescription sunglasses, threw them in her purse."

Raymond's mother, Rochell Raymond, said Olivia was just trying to find the owner of the expensive sunglasses. The charge against Olivia is a felony because the prescription Ray-Ban glasses were valued at more than $300.

"This teacher, she looked at my daughter and she saw African-American and saw a criminal," Rochell Raymond said.

Szybeko, who is white, did not return calls from the Daily Herald seeking comment.

Raymond said she got a call at her workplace in Niles about 11:30 a.m. last Thursday from Elgin police, informing her that her daughter - an honors student who plays the snare drum in the school band, is active in the Elgin Bible Church and hopes to join the armed services one day - had been arrested.

Panicked, she raced to meet her daughter at the station and found her "slumped over in a chair in an interrogation room in tears."

The girl had been fingerprinted and photographed by police, suspended from school and stripped of her privileges to attend eighth-grade activities.

Rochell Raymond said Olivia told her she found a pair of sunglasses on top of her book bag, asked around and couldn't find whose they were.

She didn't want to be late to her next class, so she took the glasses with her, planning to put them on a table in front of the main office before lunch, a few periods later, the mother said.

But just a few minutes into second period, Rochell Raymond said, Szybeko came into Olivia's class, said the sunglasses were hers and accused Olivia of stealing them.

After being called down to the main office, Olivia was told she would be suspended for theft and Szybeko might want to file criminal charges.

Olivia signed a school "behavior improvement form," indicating that she had stolen the glasses. When asked to explain why, she wrote "I don't know."

Rochell Raymond contends Olivia was not allowed to contact her and her daughter was forced to sign the admission.

Citing student privacy laws, U-46 spokesman Tony Sanders said the district is unable to share any details about the incident.

"We are aware of it," Sanders said. "We've been in discussions with the parents and are working on it and currently investigating."

Rochell Raymond has asked for a meeting at the school with Szybeko, but that has been postponed. After the family spoke with Superintendent Jose Torres, Assistant Superintendent Greg Walker and Chief of Staff Barb Bonner, the suspension was wiped from Olivia's record and her eighth-grade privileges were reinstated.

What remains are Olivia's criminal charges. The family has hired both a defense attorney and private investigator to look into the incident, in hopes of getting the charges dropped. They're also contemplating suing the district.

"In one respect as a taxpayer and a homeowner, I understand the financial difficulties (U-46) is under right now. But at the same time, that's what civil litigation was created for," Rochell Raymond said. "She has to know and understand her rights were violated. ... What other options are they leaving me?"

• Daily Herald staff writer Harry Hitzeman contributed to this report.