The recent appellate court ruling in Donovan, et al. v. Community Unit School District No. 303 marks another victory for Illinois school districts; and a second victory for the Defendant school district related to its reconfiguration of school boundaries and grade levels at two of the district’s elementary schools.
In this case, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit by parents seeking monetary damages for alleged harm they suffered as a result of the school reconfiguration. This case was successfully defended by Stan Eisenhammer and Jennifer Mueller.
In Donovan, parents filed a “class action” lawsuit against the district seeking monetary damages as a result of the district reconfiguring two elementary schools. The parents alleged that as a result of the district’s “illegal” reconfiguration they were financially harmed. Specifically, the parents claimed they suffered financial harm because they had to remove their children from the district by moving, paying private school tuition, or as a result of having to send their children to one of the reconfigured schools where they alleged their children received an education below the standard of the rest of the district.
This lawsuit followed another lawsuit by some of the same parents in which they challenged the reconfiguration of the two elementary schools, arguing that the school board violated requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In Clarke, et. al. v. Community Unit School District No. 303, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision that the reconfiguration was within the discretion of the school board.
In Donovan, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s holding that the district has immunity from the parents’ suit for damages pursuant to the Illinois Tort Immunity Act. The Act protects local public entities, such as school districts, from liability arising from the operation of government. Here, the appellate court affirmed that the district had immunity based on a provision in the Act that provides immunity for public entities for any injury “caused by adopting or failing to adopt a law or for enforcing or failing to enforce a law.”
Importantly, the appellate court held that immunities provided pursuant to the Act are absolute unless expressly limited in the language of the statute. The immunity at issue in this case is absolute; it does not make an exception for willful or wanton conduct, and it does not make any distinction between ministerial and discretionary actions.
The Donovan decision is a significant affirmation of the protections provided to school districts in the Tort Immunity Act.