After two divergent appellate court decisions this past year, the Illinois Supreme Court weighed in and clarified that even if a tenured teacher’s dismissal is rejected by a hearing officer, the school board still may pursue the lesser disciplinary action of an unpaid suspension.

As we previously reported in Board of Education of the City of Chicago v. Moore, CPS sought to dismiss the teacher for failing to appropriately respond and report an apparent overdose of a student in her class. At the end of the tenured teacher dismissal hearing, the hearing officer recommended that the teacher be reinstated. CPS adopted part of the finding by determining that the teacher’s conduct did not merit dismissal, but instead that it merited a 90-day suspension without pay. The teacher challenged the decision in court and prevailed before an appellate court, which ruled that CPS did not have the authority to suspend the teacher when it held a hearing and proceedings under the dismissal statute.

On appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, the court affirmed the school board’s authority to issue an unpaid suspension as a disciplinary measure, even after it failed to make its case for dismissal. Although the case was decided under CPS’s tenured teacher dismissal statute—which is similar but not identical to the tenured teacher dismissal decision that applies to all other public schools in Illinois—the court reasoned that CPS’s rule-making power would be effectively eliminated and it would not be able to manage the school system if it could not choose to suspend a teacher when there was misconduct that fell short of cause for dismissal. The court noted that it would be inefficient and costly to require CPS to start a new, separate disciplinary proceeding on a suspension if the evidence in the original dismissal hearing was sufficient to warrant the suspension.

School boards may impose suspension or lesser discipline, instead of termination, as part of the school board’s implied disciplinary authority granted by the School Code. Contact Frazier Satterly or Pam Simaga with any of your employee discipline questions.

Source: Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago v. Moore, 2021 IL 125785