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In Mohorn-Mintah v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, an Illinois appellate court agreed that the school board had the implied authority to suspend a tenured teacher without pay after a hearing officer rejected the administration’s recommendation to dismiss the teacher.

CPS originally sought dismissal of the tenured teacher for misconduct. She allegedly had asked a student, “Do you want to fight me?” twice in one day and had a verbal altercation with two coworkers during the 2015-16 school year. The teacher received a notice of the charges, informing her that she was being suspended without pay pending a dismissal hearing.

Following a hearing, the hearing officer issued its findings of fact and recommendation. The hearing officer found that the teacher made “unwarranted aggressive and provocative comments” to the student and that the comments were taunts, rather than threats, to fight. The hearing officer also concluded that there was no indication that the teacher actually intended to fight the student and that the Board failed to prove misconduct toward coworkers. The hearing officer ultimately recommended against dismissal and left it to the Board “to consider other responses to her conduct.”

The Board adopted the hearing officer’s findings but additionally found that the teacher had provided false testimony during the hearing. However, the Board determined that the teacher’s conduct and her false testimony warranted a warning resolution and a 50% reduction in the back pay owed to her—in essence, an unpaid suspension.

The teacher appealed the Board’s discipline to an Illinois appellate court, arguing that the Board exceeded its statutory authority because a suspension without pay is not contemplated in the dismissal statute or any other provisions of the Illinois School Code. Nevertheless, the court found that the Board’s decision to suspend the teacher was within its authority under Section 10-20.5 of the School Code, which allows boards to adopt and enforce all necessary rules for the management of schools. The court specifically reasoned that “[t]he Board’s implied power to discipline teachers would be severely hampered if it were limited only to dismissal.”

The court also rejected the teacher’s due process claim, finding that she received extensive procedural due process because she was notified of the charges against her, was given the opportunity to be heard and defend herself at a hearing where she was able to cross-examine witnesses and provide witnesses in her defense, and she had the ability to submit a post-hearing brief and exceptions to the hearing officer’s findings. Further, the teacher presented no evidence that her defense would have changed had she been notified that the Board was seeking to suspend her rather than dismiss her.

As we reported earlier this year, in Moore v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, a different panel of the same Illinois appellate court came to the opposite conclusion under a similar set of facts. Resolution of these conflicting decisions will need to be settled by the Illinois Supreme Court. Districts should consult legal counsel before dismissing or suspending a tenured teacher. Contact Tina Christofalos or Pam Simaga for guidance. 

Source: Mohorn-Mintah v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 2020 IL App (1st) 182011