Educator faces sexual abuse charges

Marney Simon
Staff writer

A consumer science teacher in the Reed-Custer School District remains behind bars this week, accused of multiple charges of allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy.

Dayna Chidester, 50, who taught consumer science and served as the sponsor for the Reed-Custer High School FCCLA program since August 2017, was arrested on Thursday, Jan. 3, by Manhattan police. She is a resident of Manhattan.

According to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office, Chidester was charged with six counts of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse, as well as one count of Indecent Solicitation of a Child and one count of Unlawful Grooming in connection with an alleged sexual relationship involving a 14-year-old male. Chidester is alleged to have exchanged texts with the teen, as well as engaging in a sexual relationship with him over the fall, including engaging in sex acts at hotels and in her car.

The investigation was conducted by the Manhattan Police Department, with assistance from State’s Attorney James Glasgow’s High Technology Crimes Unit, and the Will County Sheriff’s Office. Forensic interviews, therapy, and counseling involving those affected occurred at the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center.

If convicted, Chidester faces up to seven years for each count of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse, up to five years for the count of Indecent Solicitation, and up to three years for the Unlawful Grooming count.

Prior to her arrest, Chidester was under investigation for alleged contact with a student at Reed-Custer on accusations of drug-related activity.

On Dec. 20, a parent of a Reed-Custer High School student contacted one of the district’s School Resource Officers. The parent alleged that text messages related to illegal drugs were exchanged between a student and Chidester. The

Braidwood police immediately began an investigation, which is currently ongoing.

Reed-Custer administrators met with members of the Braidwood Police Department over the holiday break to discuss the investigation. The Braidwood Police confirmed to the Reed-Custer School District that the alleged texts did exist.

A meeting with Chidester on Jan 2 resulted in her declaration of her intent to resign her position with the district.

Chidester has been teaching for 11 years, and previously worked at Thornwood High School in South Holland.

The arrest is part of a rough run for the Reed-Custer School District.

In November, the parents of a former student filed a lawsuit alleging hazing and sexual assault while the student was a member of the RCHS football team in 2017. That lawsuit, filed in federal court, is set for a status hearing next month.

In December, a popular music teacher was arrested at his home in Joliet on charges of possession of child pornography. Kevin Macha, 28, is due back in court this week on charges that he shared child pornography from his home computer.

Following the latest arrest, the Reed-Custer Board of Education released an official statement on its hiring practices and procedures.

Employment of all personnel is approved by the board through an “action vote” taken in open session at public meetings. A thorough hiring process is completed prior to any candidate being recommended to the Board of Education for approval.

Per the board release, that process includes, but is not limited to, an applicant completing an online application, providing a resume and cover letter, providing a copy of transcripts, providing a copy of credentials including an Illinois Professional Educator License number, providing letters of recommendation, providing references, completing a criminal background check, and being interviewed by a district team of administrators and teachers or other staff members. District administrators call references prior to any candidate being recommended to the Board of Education.

The criminal background check requires that all applicants for employment consent to being fingerprinted.

The results of the fingerprinting are reviewed to guarantee that the individual is not on the Sex Offender or Child Murder/Violent Offender lists. The results are also used to confirm any prior arrests. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Illinois State Police, and the Regional Office of Education provide the district with the results of the fingerprint evaluation, reporting whether the applicant has ever been arrested and, if so, the reasons for the arrest.

“Both Kevin Macha and Dayna Chidester came to the district with positive references and completely clean criminal background checks,” the release states.

“Once positive references, transcripts, and credentials are received, criminal background checks are conducted, and individuals are employed by the Board of Education, we cannot control their non-work related activities.

“We can react to inappropriate non-work related activities, and we did so promptly in both instances. Both Kevin Macha and Dayna Chidester are no longer employed by the district and they are prohibited from being on School District property, entering any school buildings, or having any contact with students.”

The district’s three schools serve a total enrollment of 1,407 students.