3 women allege grooming, sexual misconduct by former high school teacher and coach

For nearly two decades, Andrea Crawford assumed that when she told school officials a student teacher had groomed and sexually abused her at Morton East High School in Cicero, it had put a stop to the man’s career plans.

In fact, the teacher obtained his license that summer and started a job at Elmwood Park High School in August 2002. In the following years, according to pending lawsuits, Dallas Till groomed and repeatedly had sex with two underage students at the school.

Three women in all, including Crawford, have filed Cook County lawsuits alleging that Till engaged in sexual misconduct at the Cicero and Elmwood Park schools and that school officials failed to properly investigate or intervene to protect students.

A Tribune review of Till’s case as revealed through public documents and interviews shows multiple missed opportunities by school administrators and teachers to investigate signs of alleged misconduct by the teacher and coach, beginning with Crawford’s complaint in 2002. State law requires school staff to report immediately when “they have reasonable cause to believe that a child known to them in their professional or official capacities” may have been abused.

The first woman to file suit, in June 2021, said she began having sex with Till, her basketball coach at Elmwood Park, when she was a 17-year-old junior following what she alleges were years of “overt” grooming. Her lawsuit also alleges an English teacher read her texts with Till after confiscating her cellphone, then “turned it over” to Till’s first wife, also an Elmwood Park High School teacher.

The woman said her relationship with Till ended when she was 19, not long after he impregnated her and “forced her” to get an abortion, according to the lawsuit.

Another former Elmwood Park student said in her suit, filed in November, that she had sex with Till at school beginning when she was 16 and ending when she graduated. She was one year ahead of the other Elmwood Park student. She alleges in her suit that the same English teacher who was friends with Till’s wife once publicly scolded the teenager at school, calling her a “homewrecker.”

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services told the Tribune that it had no record of receiving complaints about Till’s conduct with students at Morton East or Elmwood Park.

Crawford, now 39 and a nurse, said she found out around fall 2021 that Till was still teaching and hoped her experience was a “one-time thing.” But the following fall, a friend sent her a news article reporting that Till’s latest employer, Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208, had placed him on leave months earlier after receiving a subpoena in one of the lawsuits.

“That night, I went down a deep dark hole. I couldn’t sleep. I was sick all night,” said Crawford, who went on to speak out publicly at a school board meeting about her own allegations against Till. She filed suit last year against Till, J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 and Elmhurst University, where Till fulfilled his student teaching requirement.

Till, 47, was fired from Riverside-Brookfield in January 2023 after school officials determined he had engaged in “immoral and unprofessional conduct of a sexual nature” with two students, including Crawford, at his previous jobs in Cicero and Elmwood Park, according to district records. The district said its internal investigation found he was “untruthful” about the allegations when questioned.

Till’s attorneys have denied the women’s allegations in legal filings, and he has not been charged with a crime. School administrators at Riverside-Brookfield said no complaints have surfaced about Till about his time with the district, where he had worked since 2009, and they moved swiftly to remove him after learning of the first lawsuit.

Till’s Illinois teaching license remains valid through June 2026. An Illinois State Board of Education spokesperson, citing state law, said she “cannot confirm or comment on any specific educator misconduct” case but said the state would automatically suspend a teacher’s license if charged with certain crimes and then revoke it if convicted.

Public records indicate Till has moved to Arkansas. He did not respond to Tribune requests for comment, including a certified letter sent to his Arkansas address.

Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401, which is being sued by two former students, declined to answer Tribune questions, citing the pending litigation, and denied the Tribune’s request for records related to misconduct allegations against Till, saying it was “unduly burdensome.” Administrators at District 201 in Cicero also declined to comment. In a statement to the Tribune, Elmhurst University said it “never learned of allegations of sexual, or other, misconduct by Till during his student teaching.”

The three women filed their lawsuits anonymously as Jane Does, but Crawford agreed to be publicly identified because she “didn’t want this to get swept under the rug. I wanted it to be known and to be public so they can’t deny they didn’t know this was happening.”

Both she and a second woman who spoke to the Tribune about suing Till said it is infuriating he still is licensed to teach in Illinois. The woman who sued in November, now a 34-year-old mother living in Elk Grove Village, asked to remain anonymous. She, like Crawford, chose a career in health care to “help others since I couldn’t help myself.”

“I’m trying to heal. That’s all I can do,” she said through tears. “It’s been a very hard road. There was no getting away from it. It’s very, very soul wrenching.”

‘I was scared’

Crawford met Till during the second semester of her junior year in 2002 at Morton East, where he was a student teacher in her first-period gym class.

Nine years her senior at age 25, Till was completing a program at her high school through Elmhurst College, where the Michigan native had played football and received a bachelor’s degree in physical education. The school later changed its name to Elmhurst University.

“Thus far, my experiences at Morton have stimulated a great deal of excitement within me,” he wrote in an application to teach at the high school. “I realize the challenges that are presented in the amount of students that attend this school and I would enjoy the opportunity to be a part of the efforts to help students develop into solid and productive citizens.”

Crawford, a student leader in gym class who assisted Till, said she thought he was handsome. She was drawn to his smile and flattered by the “special attention” she said he paid to her.

The two soon began confiding in each other about their personal lives, she said, with the 16-year-old student sharing her heartaches about growing up with divorced parents.

Crawford said she often met Till before and after school and joined him in the dugout at practices and during games while he helped coach sophomore baseball. Her freshman sister typically joined them, she said.

According to her lawsuit, “Till openly and regularly touched (Andrea Crawford) in an increasingly inappropriate and explicitly sexual manner” while other students and employees were present, including “hugging her tightly and for prolonged periods of time, petting and/or stroking her body … and pressing his erect penis against her.”

It also accuses Till of “engaging in conversations of an explicitly sexual nature” with the student, including sending her sexual messages over AOL instant messenger.

“I didn’t think it was weird. It was exciting,” said Crawford, who said she was in AP and honors classes at the school. “Some of the other female students in class would talk about me always being with Till. ‘He likes you. Are you guys together?’ I didn’t tell them we were in a relationship — that we were boyfriend and girlfriend — but I kind of smiled and said, ‘Yeah, he does like me.’”

In mid-April 2002, weeks before her 17th birthday, Crawford said they met in the school parking lot on a Saturday afternoon for a rendezvous. They had not had sex previously, she said.

According to her lawsuit, filed by attorneys Chloe Schultz and David Wise, “Till pinned (Crawford) against his car, groped her, pressed his erection against her body, and attempted to persuade her to get into his car to engage in sexual intercourse with him.”

Crawford said she became frightened and left after making up an excuse: that her mom needed help with an errand.

“I just remember him telling me he has tinted windows and that no one would see us,” she told the Tribune. “In my gut, I was scared. I told him I had to go and I left.”

Crawford said she revealed the relationship to her mother and stepfather weeks later, after her younger sister was accused of forging Till’s signature on a school pass. According to the lawsuit, Till provided the sisters with passes that would excuse them for being late or missing class if they had been hanging out with him. Crawford decided to tell her folks what had been going on, she told the Tribune, so her sister wouldn’t be punished.

“I really struggled with even telling them,” she said. “At this point, I didn’t want Till to get into trouble. I wanted to protect him, but I came to a point where it was either protect Till or protect my sister with the truth, so I just had to.”

Crawford told the Tribune her parents immediately reported the allegations to school authorities. Her lawsuit alleges those officials “failed to promptly respond to and investigate rumors and/or reports of Till’s unprofessional and inappropriate conduct” as well as failing to inform Elmhurst University and the state child-welfare agency.

Her parents did not call police, Crawford and her attorneys told the Tribune, because they thought school officials would notify the proper authorities.

“I felt bad,” she said. “I felt like it was my fault. I didn’t even want to go to the police. I thought, ‘Well, this is enough.’ He’s doing his punishment. He wasn’t ever going to get to teach. ‘I’ve ruined his life enough,’ is kind of how I felt.”

It would be years before Crawford learned the truth: that Till did become a teacher. Public records show the Illinois State Board of Education issued Till his license that July.

When the Tribune requested records from Morton High School District 201 regarding Crawford’s 2002 complaint and the school system’s subsequent investigation, the district said it had none.

The principal at Morton East at the time, Manuel Isquierdo, left the Cicero school system the next year and went on to fill superintendent roles in Texas, California and Arizona, according to his LinkedIn profile. He is not a defendant in any of the litigation but his name appears in the lawsuits filed by the two former Elmwood Park students.

Reached by telephone, Isquierdo told the Tribune he does not remember Till and declined further comment.

Elmhurst University said in a statement that it did not learn of the allegations against Till until after one of the former Elmwood Park High School students filed her lawsuit.

“If Elmhurst University had been advised of allegations of sexual misconduct, action would have been taken,” the statement said. “Based on information to date, there has been no evidence of any communications to Elmhurst University about Till’s alleged conduct in 2002.”

Rumors abound

The next school year, Till started working as a physical education teacher and coach at District 401’s Elmwood Park High School. His references, including one from a Morton East teacher, described his strong work ethic, dependability and “good gentleman qualities,” according to records in his personnel file.

The Elk Grove Village woman who is now 34 began her freshman year as an Elmwood Park Tiger soon afterward, in 2003. She said she was rebellious in high school, in part because of the freedom she had while her immigrant parents worked long hours to provide for their two children.

Till was her gym teacher for all but one semester in high school, she said. He also coached girls basketball and boys baseball and football, records show. “Everyone loved him,” she told the Tribune. “He was a charmer.”

She said Till paid special attention to her and the two shared fun, flirty banter. She confided in him about her personal life, including a toxic relationship with her sophomore-year boyfriend. The two broke up that summer, she said.

It was during her junior year, in spring 2006, that Till had sex with her for the first time in the high school building, according to her lawsuit. She was 16. The suit alleges the sexual encounters continued with regularity through her senior year, always in the school building.

She said: “I knew it was illegal. But I also felt, well, I’m smart enough and old enough to make my own choices — until you grow up and realize, ‘No, you were a complete idiot as a child.’ It never crossed my mind as a 16-year-old that this was a grown man doing this.”

Till, who was married to another teacher and coach at Elmwood Park at the time, never took her out on dates or met her outside of school, the former student said. “I was just convenient, I guess,” she said, “after school at 3 o’clock.”

The woman said the two often texted each other. On his phone, Till saved her number under the name of a baseball player he coached, she said. But he didn’t seem fearful about being found out, she said. “It was so deep-rooted in everyone around him that he’s a good guy. … Everyone just loved the guy so much.”

Although the woman said she didn’t tell anyone about Till’s actions at the time, rumors were swirling around the high school about them — so much so that her younger brother told her other students were teasing him, she said.

“I was known as the girl who slept with her gym teacher,” she said. “It was talked about all the time.”

According to her lawsuit, rumors were so widespread that the English teacher who was friends with Till’s first wife recognized her name during a special class to prep for the ACT, then chastised her as a “homewrecker.”

“I felt very much ashamed and, I mean, embarrassed, as well, because this was happening in front of my fellow students,” the Elk Grove Village woman said. “I felt very defenseless.”

She never told Till about that incident, she said. Their sexual relationship ended when she graduated in spring 2007, according to her lawsuit. She said he signed her senior yearbook with her nickname for him, “Austin,” and thanked her for making things “interesting.”

Till’s first wife filed for divorce in December 2007, citing “extreme and repeated acts of mental cruelty,” according to DuPage County court records. He later married another employee of Elmwood Park High School.

Similar to Crawford, the former Elmwood Park student is now a single mother working in the healthcare field.

Around 2020, she said, another graduate of the school contacted her about Till. The other graduate, who was a year behind her at Elmwood Park, was preparing to sue Till. Knowing the rumors about her and Till, the younger graduate asked if she would serve as a witness. “She said, ‘You know, we have some similarities.’”

At the time, the older woman denied anything inappropriate had happened with Till. “I was trying to bury it,” she said of her mindset.

But in November, she became the last of the three former students to file a lawsuit against Till. She also sued Elmhurst University and Districts 201 and 401. Her attorney, Michael Sorich, said teachers and administrators missed multiple opportunities to intervene. “All of this could have been stopped,” Sorich said.

‘Best coach’

The younger Elmwood Park High School student — now 34 and living in San Antonio, Texas — was the first of the three women to sue, in June 2021. She declined to be interviewed for this story but issued a written statement through her lawyers.

“The Elmwood Park School District should be held accountable for ignoring all the red flags,” it said, in part. “This all could have been prevented if the adults simply did their jobs.”

The woman alleges in her suit that Till had a sexual relationship with her beginning when she was a 17-year-old junior in spring 2007, shortly before the other student graduated.

A gifted athlete as a teen, the younger student met Till in fall 2004, when she was a freshman, according to her lawsuit. The student didn’t get along with her mother at the time and had moved in with her father despite his struggles with alcohol, according to the suit.

Till coached her in basketball, and the suit alleges he took a special interest in her, with the two meeting in the mornings before school for individual training sessions.

By summer 2005, according to the suit, Till began sending her text messages professing he loved her. She called him “home fry” and “big brother,” and he referred to her as “small fry.” He drove her home from late-night practices and workouts.

One time, when the two were doing sit ups next to one another, Till said to her: “So this is what it feels like lying next to you,” according to the lawsuit. “Nearby students heard the comment and audibly reacted with ‘oooh(s),’” the suit states.

The lawsuit alleges Till’s relationship with the student was a source of contention in his first marriage. He told the student that his wife had “reviewed the phone bills, observed the number of exchanged texts, and that she forbade Till from texting or calling (her) and from working out with (her) in the mornings before school,” according to the suit.

After his wife moved out of their home, the lawsuit alleges, he increased his pursuit of the student through numerous text messages and phone calls, and by taking her to the movies. The two began having sex late in her junior year around April 2007, the suit said, with the first time occurring in his home.

“This is exactly how I imagined it,” Till told her, according to the lawsuit.

The same English teacher who was friends with Till’s first wife read the student’s text messages with Till after confiscating her cellphone that spring, the lawsuit states. The suit alleges that Till’s wife, who was the girl’s softball coach, confronted the student about the “inappropriate” texts but “acknowledged that her husband Till, a grown man, was the one who should know better.”

In the written statement provided through her attorneys, Peter Stamatis and Steven Shonder, the former student alleged Elmwood Park High School “staff were well aware of his predatory behavior — even read intimate text messages that he sent me — but did nothing.” The suit alleges the two “regularly” had sex inside the high school.

According to the woman’s lawsuit, she began routinely staying over at Till’s Elmhurst home in the summer of 2007. The student turned 18 that fall.

She was still present in Till’s home, according to her lawsuit, when a school staff member who taught students serving in-school suspensions at Elmwood Park rented a room in the home in January 2008.

The lawsuit alleges the student stopped attending classes in February 2008, at “Till’s urging,” after her senior-year basketball season ended. She had enough credits to earn her diploma, and her high school records show she graduated that June.

In her senior yearbook, Till is listed as the male teacher at Elmwood Park High School with the “prettiest smile” and as its “best coach.”

The teenager’s relationship with Till continued through that summer and fall, when she learned she was pregnant with his child, according to her lawsuit. The suit alleges Till persuaded her to get an abortion and drove her to obtain the procedure.

“Till was terrified that others would find out … and manipulated her with guilt to keep quiet, telling her repeatedly that if anyone found out about what he had done to her, and if he ever went to jail for it, he would commit suicide,” the suit states.

In spring 2009, when she was 19, “he advised (her) that he had met someone new, and with (her) life in shambles, Till directed her to move out … thus abandoning (her),” according to the suit.

The woman’s lawsuit also details a December 2008 incident when someone posted about Till on a website called TheDirty.com, which promised “fresh dirt for your lunchtime enjoyment.” The anonymous post alleged Till was having sex with “his students” and had divorced because of affairs with “other teachers and students.”

Court filings in the suit include a memorandum written by then-Principal James Jennings to his superintendent in which Jennings said he succeeded in getting the website to remove the post and he had contacted River Grove police “to discuss the possibility of tracking the creator of the statement.” He wrote that police said it was “unlikely, but that they would look into it.”

The correspondence does not say if school officials or police looked into whether Till was involved in sexual misconduct with students. Jennings’ memorandum did state that he had contacted DCFS at the superintendent’s behest but the agency did not open an investigation because “there was no known victim or inappropriate action taken by Mr. Till.”

A DCFS spokesperson said the agency after a thorough review found no record of a hotline call concerning Till.

Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401’s current superintendent, Leah Gauthier, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. She was not superintendent during Till’s tenure. The district would not release documents related to complaints against Till in response to the Tribune’s records requests. The district said staff would need to review “thousands of pages of records” and the burden on the district “outweighs any public interest in the requested information.”

As principal, Jennings was one of several district staffers who wrote Till a glowing letter of recommendation in February 2009 — two months after the social media posting — when he applied for a teaching position at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

In the letter, Jennings referred to Till as an “excellent role model” for new staff members and “our best coach.”

“Dallas is the type of educator every administrator loves to have on staff,” he wrote. “He is a consummate professional who devotes all of his energy to the children with whom he works.”

Jennings, now the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations and chief school business officer, did not respond to a Tribune request for comment. Jennings said in a recent deposition that he was “shocked” by the former student’s allegations, court records show.

Allegations become public

Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said no one has accused Till of similar misconduct at the high school, where Till coached girls basketball and boys baseball. The district is not a defendant in any of the lawsuits.

Skinkis said Till passed the required background checks when hired and administrators there “had no knowledge” of the allegations against him until being subpoenaed in the Texas woman’s lawsuit about a year after it was filed.

Administrators placed Till on paid leave within days and launched an internal investigation, records provided by the district show. They also notified DCFS and police.

The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark was the first to report the District 208 school board action against Till, beginning in fall 2022. Two of the lawsuits against him now include comments left on the news site alleging his behavior was well known to Elmwood Park students and staff.

“How is this just coming up,” one person wrote. “We all knew about him doing this.” Another commented: “The sad part (is) … all the teachers knew what was going on.”

After reading about the Texas woman’s allegations in the Landmark, Crawford said she felt compelled to attend the next school board meeting.

“I just felt helpless and the only thing I could do or think of in that moment was to go to the school board meeting where he’s a teacher and tell them this happened to me too,” she told the Tribune.

In recorded public comments, Crawford told school leaders at the Oct. 11, 2022, meeting that Till had sexually groomed her 20 years earlier at Morton East and administrators there failed to act on her allegations.

“I ask you to please take this seriously and protect your students and the future generations from him,” she was recorded telling board members. “Please do not fail any more children, as Morton failed me and the students after me.”

Several advocates for victims’ rights told the Tribune they were not shocked by the allegations that school officials didn’t handle the Till allegations properly. Even well-intentioned school staff members might want to give their co-worker the benefit of the doubt, especially one as popular as Till, or may be afraid to get involved.

“That’s one of the reasons we have to be really consistent in training on mandated reporting and be clear in the expectations for mandated reporters,” said Carrie Ward, chief executive officer of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Reporting requirements were not created to be optional. We have to be really vigilant.”

The District 208 school board voted unanimously on Jan. 24, 2023, to dismiss Till, and Crawford filed her lawsuit months later. The Elk Grove Village woman came forward with her complaint last November. She did not file a police complaint against Till, but the other women did.

Crawford said she filed a report with Cicero police after her October 2022 school board appearance. Police in Cicero declined to comment for this story. River Grove police Chief Michael Konwinski, whose department has jurisdiction over Elmwood Park High School, said in an email that the Texas woman’s 2021 criminal investigation remains “open but is officially suspended.” He would not comment further.

According to River Grove police records, a detective’s investigation hit a roadblock because of the time that has passed since the alleged crime, with digital evidence such as emails, phone and text messages no longer available. Many witnesses who were subpoenaed as part of the lawsuits did not return the detective’s phone calls, and Till’s criminal lawyer said “his client will not be speaking with (police) under any circumstances,” the records show. Contacted by the Tribune, that lawyer said he was no longer representing Till.

In a recent Tribune interview, Crawford said she feels a sense of responsibility to the other women and wants people who she believes failed to report the allegations to be held accountable.

“I think of the Jane Does and what they’ve had to endure and it just hurts to know it should have never happened,” she said. “It should have been stopped a long time ago. He should have been stopped a long time ago.”