Court Upholds Superintendent’s Termination for Reassigning Students to Alternative School without Board Action

On September 9, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Rich Township High School District 227 Board of Education and its individual Board members had sufficient cause to terminate the employment of their Superintendent.

The primary issue in the case, Leak v. Board of Education of Rich T.H.S.D. 227, was whether the Superintendent’s conduct constituted sufficient “cause” to terminate her employment contract. At issue was the Superintendent’s practice of administratively transferring misbehaving students to alternative schools without taking the students’ cases to the Board.

Interestingly, this practice of transferring students to the alternative school without Board action was a long-standing practice that had gone on for years without question. The Superintendent had recently been renewed for a multi-year contract and been rated Excellent by 6 of 7 Board members. However, a swing election resulted in a new Board majority, and the new Board was concerned about this practice and fired the Superintendent because of it.

The court examined Section 10-22.6 of the School Code, which authorizes students who are guilty of “gross disobedience or misconduct” to be expelled, but only by the Board and only following a hearing by the Board or its hearing officer. This authority is distinct from the authority to suspend students for up to 10 days, which authority is often delegated to the Superintendent. Since the alternative school placements at issue in this case lasted more than 10 days, they were expulsions, and the court concluded that the Superintendent had acted improperly in expelling students without Board hearings.

Notably, the court reviewed Section 13A-4 of the School Code, which authorizes students subject to suspension or expulsion to be “immediately transferred to the alternative program.” The court determined that this authority does not trump the requirement under 10-22.6 that the Board make any and all expulsion decisions.

The court also considered the Superintendent’s arguments concerning whether the Board violated an implied covenant to act in good faith under the employment contract and whether the Board acted arbitrarily or capriciously. The court rejected these arguments, noting that the Board had acted within its contractual authority to dismiss the Superintendent if she acted in a manner that was detrimental to the best interests of the district.

Finally, the Superintendent argued that she did not receive a fair and impartial hearing before the Board before her termination. The crux of her argument was that the Board was biased. To be biased, the court held, the Superintendent would have to prove the Board members “had to some extent adjudged the facts [and] the law of the case in advance of hearing it.” The Superintendent failed to do so, so the court rejected her claim. 

The Appellate Court’s ruling impacts both student and school personnel practices. Please contact Jeff Goelitz or Bennett Rodick with your inquiries.

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