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Whitnall food director's child enticement arrest raises issue about why parents weren't notified

March 19, 2013

Greenfield - Parents didn't immediately learn that Whitnall School District's food service director had been charged with enticing a child for the purpose of sex.

In fact, by the time he was charged Feb. 28 by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, five days had past, long enough for the news about James Heidke, 55, to be posted on Facebook and reported on a local television station.

Information lag time

To answer questions about why parents weren't notified, Superintendent Lowell Holtz will hold an information session at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Whitnall High School auditorium.

Heidke was arrested in a police sting operation in which he allegedly thought he was soliciting a 15-year-old boy via computer. The "boy" was actually an undercover police officer.

Parents didn't find out about it until the afternoon of March 5, many hours after it had appeared on Facebook and after WISN aired the information on one of its newscasts.

School officials said parents weren't notified immediately because police said they had no indication that Whitnall students had been victimized, said School Board President Nancy Zaborowski.

Heidke - who worked for Aviands food service, a subcontractor that provides lunches for all the Whitnall schools - is no longer the district's food service director, Whitnall officials said.

Delay questioned

But School Board member Quin Brunnette said that, regardless of Heidke's status and the victims involved, the schools should have told parents immediately. He was highly critical of that delay.

"The right decision wasn't made for our kids," Brunnette said.

A more timely revelation would have prepared parents with the facts, which would help answer their children's questions, he said. As it was, parents were on the receiving end of questions they weren't ready to answer.

All school officials had to do was email parents with the information that a man was charged, that he was not an employee, and that police didn't believe Whitnall students were involved, while advising parents to talk to their children to verify that they were not affected, Brunnette said.

"And that would have been it," he said.

Communications review

Brunnette pushed for a full School Board discussion of the way communication was handled. That review will take place in closed session after the board's regular meeting following Monday's information session.

A new communication policy also will be developed in the next two months, Zaborowski said. That policy development will involve whether to have periodic background checks instead of one check at the start of employment. (Heidke had been food service director for about two years.)

A background check is performed on all employees whether hired by the district or by subcontractors, Zaborowski explained.

Nature of charges

Heidke, a grandfather, could face up to 40 years in prison is found guilty of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint also alleges:

Heidke was arrested just before 8 p.m. Feb. 23 in a parking lot in Whitefish Bay where he thought he was meeting the boy. He said he planned to take him back to his home just north of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and possibly have oral sex with him. He had already sent the "boy" two photos of nude men.

In searching Heidke's home, police found a basement equipped with sex articles and leather restraints, a neck collar and a sling used in certain kinds of sex acts. It had subdued lighting.

The sting operation was conducted by the Intelligence Fusion Center's High Technology Unit, a division of the Milwaukee Police Department.

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