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Hearsay in Administrative Hearing Violates Tenured Teacher’s Due Process When Outcome Depends on Witness Credibility

By September 29, 2014April 29th, 2015News

In Kimble v. The Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Court of Appeals, First District, held that a hearing officer’s admission of a student’s hearsay statements during a tenured teacher’s dismissal hearing violated the teacher’s due process right to cross-examine her accuser.

Sharon Kimble, a tenured teacher, was dismissed by the Board of Education of the City of Chicago based on allegations that she pushed and choked a 10-year-old student. At her dismissal hearing, Kimble denied the allegations.

The student did not attend the hearing. However, over Kimble’s informal objection, the hearing officer permitted the school counselor, principal, and Board investigator to testify regarding the student’s statements about the incident. The hearing officer concluded that the school administrators reasonably relied on the truthfulness of the student’s statements, and that their testimony at the hearing was credible. Subsequently, the hearing officer recommended dismissal, and the Board terminated Kimble’s employment.

On appeal, Kimble argued that the hearing officer’s admission of the student’s hearsay testimony violated her due process right to cross-examine her accuser. In determining whether Kimble’s rights were violated, the court considered Colquitt v. Rich Township High School District No. 227, an earlier case involving student hearsay during a student expulsion hearing.

In Colquitt, a student sought review of the Board of Education’s decision to expel him due to a verbal confrontation between him and three other students. None of the witnesses to the entire incident attended the hearing.

Instead, the witnesses submitted conflicting written statements, which the hearing officer received into the record. On review, the court determined that the outcome of the hearing was directly dependent on the credibility of the three conflicting witnesses. Thus, the opportunity for cross-examination was imperative, and the student’s rights were violated when he was denied that opportunity.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that, like in Colquitt, the outcome of Kimble’s hearing was dependent on the absent student’s credibility. In such a case, it was “simply unjust” to terminate a tenured teacher based almost entirely on the hearsay statements of one student who was not present at the hearing.

The Appellate Court noted that although it is not necessary to adhere to strict rules of evidence during administrative proceedings, a fair hearing must include the right to cross-examine adverse witnesses. Consequently—extending Colquitt to apply to a tenured teacher dismissal hearing—the Appellate Court found that Kimble’s right to due process was violated when she did not have the opportunity to cross-examine a witness whose testimony was indispensable.

Kimble re-emphasizes the importance of proper preparation for student expulsion and teacher dismissal hearings. Contact Tina Christofalos with your teacher dismissal inquiries or Lori Martin with your student discipline inquiries.