CHICAGO — The case of a suburban Chicago teenager who killed himself after being confronted at his high school about whether he made a video of himself having sex with a classmate raised uncomfortable questions about how aggressively school officials should question kids suspected of wrongdoing and whether they should wait until a parent arrives.
A wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of 16-year-old Corey Walgren that focused on those questions has been resolved, with the city of Naperville expected to approve a settlement Tuesday in which it and the local school district each agree to pay the Walgren family $125,000.
Corey’s death on Jan. 11, 2017, three hours after a dean and an in-school police officer at Naperville High School told the honor-roll student he might face child pornography charges, also prompted a change in Illinois law.
As of August, a parent, guardian, family lawyer or designated advocate must be present before police can begin questioning students at school who are younger than 18 and suspected of crimes, unless they pose an imminent threat.
“The Corey Walgren story hits at every single parent’s heart,” said Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, who introduced the legislation. “We need to recognize that the brains of young people are not fully developed and they need to be dealt with differently. … What happened to Corey should never happen again.”
The most sensitive question surrounding the tragedy — whether school authorities shared responsibility for what happened to Corey — was addressed by the federal judge in the civil case. Her answer: They weren’t legally liable for his death because they couldn’t have known he was suicidal.
That finding this year by U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood prompted her to dismiss the suit. But the family hoped the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals would revive it. The sides agreed to the settlement while that appeal was pending, rendering the appeal moot.
While Wood concluded officials hadn’t broken the law, she said that determination shouldn’t be construed as condoning how they dealt with Corey, especially telling him he could be charged and may have to register as a sex offender. The judge said child pornography was not found on Corey’s phone as suspected and that officials had falsely accused him.
Michael Tarm is an Associated Press writer.