In Longanecker v. East Moline School District No. 37, an Illinois appellate court recently affirmed the dismissal of a tenured elementary teacher accused of cheating several times on standardized testing, even though a hearing officer recommended reinstating the teacher.

The tenured teacher was alleged to have opened an ISAT test booklet several days before the test was scheduled with the intention of teaching the questions on the test, improperly helping students take the MAP test by guiding them to the correct response, and directing students to work and answer standardized assessments collectively. The school board found that the teacher’s misconduct was irremediable and warranted dismissal.

After a hearing, a hearing officer concluded that the school district did not prove that the misconduct occurred, and the hearing officer therefore recommended that the teacher be reinstated with back pay. The school board did not adopt the hearing officer’s recommendation, instead finding that after its own consideration of the evidence presented at the hearing, every charge had been proven. The school board further found that that the teacher’s misconduct was irremediable because it harmed students, damaged the student-teacher relationship, undermined the standardized testing, and damaged the school’s reputation. Accordingly, the school board found the teacher’s dismissal was warranted.

The teacher appealed her dismissal in court. Ultimately, an Illinois appellate court sided with the school board. The court reasoned that, although the School Code required the school board to incorporate the hearing officer’s factual findings, it also allowed the board to supplement or modify the hearing officer’s findings if, in the board’s opinion, it believed the hearing officer’s factual findings to be against the manifest weight of the evidence. The court then reviewed the board’s factual findings and found that the board’s factual findings provided sufficient basis for the teacher’s dismissal.

This case highlights a school board’s statutory authority in misconduct cases to dismiss a tenured teacher despite a hearing officer’s recommendation to reinstate. A school board must consider the hearing officer’s factual findings and recommendations; however, the final decision-making authority rests with the school board.

To discuss your tenured teacher dismissal questions, contact any attorney in our Labor/Personnel practice group. 

Source: Longanecker v. E. Moline Sch. Dist. No. 37, 2020 IL App (3rd) 150890