Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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Rehfield sued the Diocese, alleging retaliatory discharge and violation of the Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174/1). Rehfield was an educator for more than 43 years. In 2012, Rehfield was hired as the principal of St. Raphael Catholic School in Naperville. In 2016, Rehfield alerted teachers about an out-of-state parent, MacKinnon, whom Rehfield believed to present a threat based on his emails concerning his daughter. Eventually, the police issued an arrest warrant for MacKinnon. Against the advice of the police and the supervising priest, Rehfield distributed a photograph of MacKinnon and informed her staff to call 911 if they saw MacKinnon. In May 2017, the Naperville Sun published an inaccurate story about the situation: “Man vowed to ‘terrorize’ Naperville school: authorities.” Days after a meeting with angry parents, the Diocese terminated RehfieldThe trial court dismissed, reasoning that Rehfield was employed pursuant to a contract and “[c]ommon law retaliatory discharge claims may only be asserted by employees terminable at will.” The trial court also cited the doctrine of ecclesiastic abstention. The appellate court affirmed, stating that Rehfield was not a secular employee but a “member of the clergy.” The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Rehfield’s formal title (lay principal) does not necessarily indicate a religious role but her job duties entailed numerous religious functions in furtherance of the school’s Catholic mission. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that she was a minister and that the ministerial exception bars her whistleblower claim. View "Rehfield v. Diocese of Joliet" on Justia Law

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Moore, a tenured teacher since 1994, was advised by her students that another student had ingested some pills. Other school personnel immediately became involved in responding to the incident. Chicago Public Schools later approved dismissal charges against Moore, (105 ILCS 5/34-85), alleging failure to appropriately respond, failure to supervise, failure to perform certain duties, and failure to comply with Board policies and the state ethical and professional standards. Moore was suspended without pay pending the outcome of the dismissal hearing.On September 7, 2018, the hearing officer issued findings that Moore had alerted the administration to the student’s overdose and that she had not lied during the investigation and concluded that the Board’s evidence failed to establish cause for Moore’s dismissal. The Board found that Moore failed to act in a prudent and responsible manner, failed to check on the well-being of the student, and failed to notify her colleagues in a timely fashion. The Board determined that Moore’s negligent behavior did not warrant her dismissal but issued a warning resolution, required her to attend training, and imposed a 90-day reduction in her back pay.The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the Board’s decision. The appellate court erred when it held that section 34-85 precluded the Board from suspending a teacher without pay following a dismissal hearing; a 2011 amendment did not diminish the Board’s implied authority to issue a suspension once a determination is made that the conduct does not warrant dismissal. Sections 34- 18 and 34-85 govern different disciplinary sanctions (dismissals and suspensions) and are not in conflict. The Board articulated its findings and analysis supporting the sanctions. View "Board of Education of the City of Chicago v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The John A. Logan Community College Board of Trustees voted to reduce the number of full-time faculty members for the 2016-17 school year; 27 tenured faculty members (including the plaintiffs) received layoff notices under the Public Community College Act, 110 ILCS 805/3B. The Board and the union entered into a settlement agreement regarding various matters related to the decision.In 2017, the plaintiffs filed suit, citing section 3B-5 of the Act, which provides: “For the period of 24 months from the beginning of the school year for which the faculty member was dismissed, any faculty member shall have the preferred right to reappointment to a position entailing services he is competent to render prior to the appointment of any new faculty member; provided that no nontenure faculty member or other employee with less seniority shall be employed to render a service which a tenured faculty member is competent to render.” During the 2016-17 school year, adjunct instructors taught courses that plaintiffs had previously taught; they alleged that enough work existed to employ them full-time.The appellate court ruled that adjunct instructors were other “employee[s] with less seniority” under the “bumping rights” provision. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The rights conferred by section 3B-5 apply to individual courses, rather than to positions as faculty members; section 3B-5 prohibits the Board from laying off tenured faculty members and hiring adjunct instructors to teach courses that the tenured faculty formerly taught. View "Barrall v. Board of Trustees of John A. Logan Community College" on Justia Law

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Restore was asked to mitigate and repair significant fire damage at Proviso East High School, having provided similar service to the District in the past. The District’s customary practice when contracting for repair and payment of losses covered by insurance was to proceed without a recorded vote of its Board. The fire loss was covered by insurance. The District’s superintendent executed contracts with Restore.The District was subject to the School District Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) and Emergency Financial Assistance Law (105 ILCS 5/1B-1) and the Financial Oversight Panel Law (105 ILCS 5/1H-1). The FOP’s chief fiscal officer attended construction meetings and approved numerous subcontracts, quotations, bids, sales orders, change orders, and invoices. Although there was no recorded vote, “a majority of the Proviso Board knew and informally approved" the work. Restore was paid by the insurers for all but $1,428,000. Restore sued, seeking recovery from the District based on quantum meruit. The District argued that it had no obligation to pay because the contracts had not been let out for bid and approved by a majority vote as required by the School Code (105 ILCS 5/1-1).The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reinstatement of the case following dismissal. The failure of a governmental unit to comply with required contracting methods is not fatal to a plaintiff’s right to recover based on quasi-contract or implied contract principles. The Board was subject to the FOP; the FOP was fully apprised of and approved the work. Any misconduct was on the part of the Board; allowing Restore to recover presents no “risk of a raid on the public treasury.” View "Restore Construction Co., Inc. v. Board of Education of Proviso Township High Schools District 209" on Justia Law

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The School Code provides that school districts must grant full-time teachers paid sick leave of at least 10 days in each school year. Unused sick days accumulate. Sick leave means "personal illness, quarantine at home, serious illness or death in the immediate family or household, or birth, adoption, or placement for adoption. The school board may require a certificate from a physician ... as a basis for pay during leave after an absence of 3 days for personal illness or 30 days for birth,” 105 ILCS 5/24-6.Dynak, a full-time teacher, gave birth by scheduled caesarian section on June 6, 2016. The District approved her use of accumulated paid sick leave on June 6 and 7, the last day of the school year. The District approved her request for 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, (FMLA) 29 U.S.C. 2601, beginning on August 18, the first day of the next school year. The District denied her request to use paid sick leave for the first 28.5 days of her FMLA leave. Dynak did not submit a physician’s certificate to substantiate a medical need for additional paid sick leave.The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of Dynak’s suit; "there is no evidence ... that the legislature intended to create a vested right in an employee to take paid sick leave on any days the employee chooses.“ Sick leave for birth must be interpreted in the same manner as sick leave for other events listed in section 24-6. If a teacher gives birth during the school year, she must use her accumulated sick leave to take paid time off for the birth. If a teacher gives birth just before or during a summer break, however, the teacher has no need to use her accumulated sick days. View "Dynak v. Board of Education of Wood Dale School District 7" on Justia Law

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Illinois High School Association (IHSA), which governs interscholastic athletic competitions for public and private secondary schools, is not a “public body” under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 ILCS 140/2.Founded in 1900, IHSA is a private, not-for-profit, unincorporated association with over 800 public and private high school members. IHSA establishes bylaws and rules for interscholastic sports competition, enforces those rules, and sponsors and coordinates post-season tournaments for certain sports in which member schools choose to compete. Any Illinois private or public high school may join IHSA if it agrees to abide by IHSA rules. There is no requirement that public schools constitute a certain percentage of IHSA membership and no requirement that public schools join IHSA. IHSA does not govern all sports or extracurricular activities of the member schools. It does not supervise intramural sports or most club sports. It is not involved in regular season interscholastic contests among the member schools. The Better Government Association submitted a FOIA request to IHSA for all of its contracts for accounting, legal, sponsorship, and public relations/crisis communications services and all licensed vendor applications for two fiscal years. The trial, appellate, and Illinois Supreme Court agreed that IHSA is a not-for-profit charitable organization and not subject to the FOIA. View "Better Government Association v. Illinois High School Association" on Justia Law

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In 2010, plaintiff (age 15) was playing floor hockey with 11 other students in his physical education class when a “squishy” ball bounced off his stick and hit him in the eye, causing permanent injury to his eye. Plaintiff alleged that Cunningham, the instructor, was willful and wanton in failing to require the students to wear protective eyewear. Goggles were available, but plaintiff testified that he probably would not have worn them, had he been aware that they were an option. Cunningham testified that she thought the use of plastic sticks and squishy balls negated the need for goggles and that there were safety rules in place. Defendants asserted affirmative defenses alleging statutory immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/2-201, 3-108. The trial court directed a verdict for defendants. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the directed verdict. There was no evidence that defendants were aware of facts which would have put a reasonable person on notice of the risk of serious harm from the activity, which would have triggered the “willful and wanton” exception to the Act. View "Barr v. Cunningham" on Justia Law

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The Springfield School District Board of Education met in closed sessions to discuss a separation agreement with then-superintendent Milton. At the January 31 closed meeting, Milton signed and dated a proposed agreement. At a February 4 closed session, six (of seven) Board members signed, but did not date the agreement. The Board’s attorney explained that they would have to take a public vote but that they were bound by the agreement not to publicly disclose the details of their discussions or the agreement’s terms. A reporter filed a request under 5 ILCS 120/3.5(a), for review of alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act. Meanwhile, the Board announced the agenda for a March 5 public meeting; its website included item 9.1, approval of the separation agreement, with a link to the resolution, which linked to the separation agreement itself, containing Milton’s dated signature and the undated Board member signatures. At the public meeting, a dissenting Board member objected that neither she nor the public were aware of the reasons for the action. The resolution was approved. The agreement was then dated March 5. The Attorney General subsequently concluded: the February 4 signing constituted taking a final action in violation of the Act; even if it was permissible to ratify that action by an open-meeting vote, the Board failed to adequately inform the public of the nature of the matter; the Board failed to create and maintain verbatim recordings of closed sessions; and the Board failed to summarize discussions of the separation agreement in the minutes of closed meetings. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld lower court conclusions that the Board did not violate the Act because final action was taken at the March 5 open meeting, and that the website posting adequately informed the public of the nature of the matter. View "Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 v. Attorney General of Illinois" on Justia Law

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Beggs, a tenured teacher, was dismissed from her employment by Murphysboro Community Unit School District. Caring for her parents, Beggs had accrued several absences and was tardy several days. She had received a “letter of concern” and a “remedial warning,” had taken sick leave, and had been suspended before her termination. Beggs requested a hearing, Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/24-12. A hearing officer issued findings of fact and recommended that Beggs be reinstated with back pay and benefits because the Board failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she had violated the notice of remedial warning or that she had engaged in irremediable conduct that constituted grounds for dismissal. The Board nonetheless dismissed her. The circuit court ordered Beggs reinstated with back pay and benefits. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. While the Board’s frustration with Beggs before the notice of remedial warning was “understandable and well documented,” it was unclear from the Board’s decision whether it would have found cause for discharge based on a tardiness incident of March 19, 2012, alone. Only a clear and material breach of the warning notice that was causally related to her past deficiencies would support dismissal. That single incident was not a clear and material breach of the warning notice. The court expressed “a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” View "Beggs v. Board of Education of Murphysboro Community Unit School District No. 186" on Justia Law

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The Chicago Board of Education and the Teachers Union 2007-2012 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) established a grievance procedure that culminated in binding arbitration. In 2010, the Board notified the Union of a new policy: designating as ineligible for rehire probationary appointed teachers (PATs) who have been non-renewed twice, or have had an unsatisfactory performance rating. The Board began implementing this policy and notified PATs that they were being non-renewed, but did not inform them that it had placed a “do not hire” (DNH) designation in their personnel files. The Union presented grievances and demanded arbitration. The Board refused to arbitrate, claiming that Board hiring decisions were exclusive management rights. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act found that, under the Act and the CBA, the Board had a duty to arbitrate the DNH grievances and, by refusing, had violated 115 ILCS 5/14(a)(1). The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. PATs are employed for a single school-year; the Board alone is vested with selection of such employees as a matter of inherent managerial policy. The policy of placing a DNH designation in PAT files following two nonrenewals or an unsatisfactory performance rating was within the Board’s authority because it directly relates to its exclusive right to determine hiring guidelines. View "Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chicago v. Ill. Educ. Labor Relations Bd." on Justia Law