Illinois Appellate Court Invalidates Reduction-in-Force

A recent Fourth District Appellate Court decision provides further clarification as to which teacher performance evaluations a school district should use when determining its list for a reduction in force (“RIF”). In Nafziger v. Board of Education of Staunton Community Unit School District No. 6, Gayle Nafziger, a schoolteacher, was honorably dismissed after thirty-two years due to a reduction in force (“RIF”). 2019 IL App (4th) 180770. Nafziger believed her placement in Group 2 on the District’s honorable dismissal list was improper, therefore, her dismissal was also improper. The District based its dismissal list groupings on a teacher’s position and the last two summative performance evaluation ratings.  

 

Nafziger argued that she should have been placed in Group 3 based on her last two “proficient” evaluation ratings in November of the school term immediately preceding the RIF. Alternatively, the District argued that it could not use two evaluation ratings from the same school term to determine placement on its dismissal list, which is why the District used Nafziger’s evaluation rating of “needs improvement” from two school terms preceding the RIF and the “proficient” rating she received in the school term immediately preceding the RIF.  

 

The circuit court agreed with Nafziger and found that she should have been placed in Group 3 because she received two “Proficient” evaluation ratings in November of the school term immediately preceding the RIF. However, on appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the circuit court’s decision based on the plain language of Section 24-12(b) of the School Code, which governs the order of honorable dismissals in the event of a RIF. 

 

Section 24-12(b) specifically states, “[n]o more than one evaluation rating each school term shall be one of the evaluation ratings used for the purpose of determining the sequence of dismissal.” 105 ILCS 5/24-12(b). Additionally, if there are multiple performance evaluations from the same school term, then only the last performance evaluation from that school term should be used to establish a district’s honorable dismissal list. Id. Therefore, the Appellate Court found Nafziger’s placement in Group 2 and eventual dismissal were proper based on her evaluation rating from two school terms preceding the RIF and the school term immediately preceding the RIF.  

 

In practice, to determine a teacher’s grouping placement, districts should consider available performance evaluation ratings from the two school terms preceding a RIF and if a teacher received more than one performance evaluation rating in a school term, then the district should make sure to only consider the last evaluation from that school term.  

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