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In Kalisz v. Board of Education of Kildeer Countryside CCSD 96, an Illinois appellate court upheld a school board’s dismissal of a tenured teacher for cause, even though the teacher’s conduct in repeatedly abandoning her classroom differed from the conduct addressed in a prior notice of remedial warning, which involved a failure to cooperate and be truthful with administration.

In 2016, a full-time tenured teacher found herself involved in a DCFS investigation concerning allegations of abuse of her own children. While DCFS later determined the allegations to be unfounded, during the board’s investigation into the matter, the teacher was both uncooperative and untruthful with administration. As a result, in May 2016, the board issued the teacher a notice of remedial warning, finding her conduct in obstructing the investigation and providing untruthful statements to be unprofessional and unsatisfactory.

The notice of remedial warning identified, in pertinent part, the following unsatisfactory conduct, which if repeated, would lead to her dismissal: (1) showing poor professional judgment and unprofessional conduct; (2) violating board policy by failing to maintain high standards of service, to demonstrate integrity and honesty, and to be considerate and cooperative; (3) engaging in misconduct, including unlawful behavior that relates to employment duties, behavior that disrupts the educational process, and immoral conduct; (4) violating board policy by failing to maintain high standards of service as required by a teacher; and (5) engaging in insubordinate conduct by disregarding board policies and directives. The notice of remedial warning further directed the teacher to immediately cease the conduct described and to abide by a number of directives, including, in relevant part, exercising appropriate and professional judgment in her duties as a teacher; abiding by and following all expectations set forth in the board’s policies; conducting herself in a professional manner as expected of all board employees; strictly adhering to the terms of the notice of remedial warning; and following all the board’s policies, procedures, and practices.

Thereafter, during the 2017-2018 school year, the board became aware that the teacher left her classroom on multiple occasions for extended periods to attend to things of a personal nature, including making personal phone calls and smoking a cigarette. On one occasion, the teacher arranged for another teacher to teach her class and left school early without notifying administration or requesting sick or personal time to cover her absence. Following an investigation, the administration recommended dismissal based on the teacher’s abandonment of her classroom on many occasions, leaving school early without obtaining administrative approval, and exercising unprofessional judgment and violating board policies related to ethics, conduct, responsibilities, and duties. For those reasons, the board dismissed the employee, finding that she failed to remediate the behaviors as required in her 2016 notice of remedial warning.

A hearing officer upheld the board’s decision to terminate, but a trial court reversed it, finding that the 2017-2018 behavior was not sufficiently similar and causally related to the 2016 notice of remedial warning. The appellate court reversed the trial court and affirmed the board’s dismissal action. In doing so, the appellate court noted that the 2016 notice of remedial warning specifically warned the employee to exercise appropriate and professional judgment, conduct herself professionally, and follow all of the board’s policies, procedures, and practices. Based on the record before it, the court could not find that the hearing officer erred in finding that the employee’s conduct in excessively leaving her classroom for extended periods violated the requirements in the notice of remedial warning.

This case demonstrates that well-crafted notices of remedial warnings should not just capture the specific acts of misconduct at issue, but also should refer to a school board’s broader policies, procedures, and practices. Contact Tina Christofalos, Ellen Rothenberg, Mary Karagiannis, or any attorney in our Labor/Personnel practice group with your questions on notices to remedy.

Source: Kalisz v. Bd. of Educ. of Kildeer Countryside Cmty. Consol. Sch. Dist. 96, 2021 IL App (2d) 200095