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A teacher formerly employed by Waukegan Community Unit School District No. 60 filed a lawsuit alleging that the school board improperly dismissed him by erroneously determining that his conduct was irremediable and finding that he sexually harassed members of the track team. The teacher also alleged that the school board failed to follow the proper procedures for dismissing a tenured teacher. An Illinois appellate court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit.

During the spring of 2017, a member of the girls track team reported that the team coach (who also was a tenured teacher) inappropriately touched some of the girls on their buttocks.  The administration conducted a thorough investigation, which included interviewing the girls on the track team multiple times while the teacher was on paid administrative leave. The teacher participated in two due process meetings regarding the allegations. During the meetings, he denied the allegations and provided his written statement. Further, the school district provided the teacher with 48 redacted student statements supporting the investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, the administration provided an executive summary of the investigation and supporting documents. The administration then recommended the teacher’s dismissal, which the school board approved. The school board provided the teacher with a notice of charges, a bill of particulars, and a notice of dismissal as a tenured teacher.

During the teacher-requested hearing before an ISBE-approved hearing officer, the school board presented 10 student witnesses, as well as parent and staff witnesses. The teacher presented no evidence. The hearing officer found that the teacher placed the student-athletes in demeaning and undermining situations by touching them, by making verbal sexual innuendos, and by his lack of awareness of personal space. The hearing officer found this conduct irremediable, meaning it could not have been remedied with a warning, and thus was sufficient cause for dismissal. The school board adopted the hearing officer’s findings and recommendation.

The teacher then appealed the dismissal in court. The trial court and appellate court both upheld the hearing officer’s findings. The appellate court stated that there was sufficient evidence to determine that the teacher harassed female students and violated school board policy, and that such conduct was sufficient for dismissal.

As for the procedural issues, the teacher alleged that the school board did not follow the Illinois School Code requirements for a tenured teacher dismissal. The court rejected this argument. First, the court noted that the school board properly approved the motion with specific charges, even though it was in the form of an executive summary. Second, the notice of charges and bill of particulars were timely mailed. The teacher alleged that the charges and bill of particulars were received a day late. The court, however, relied on prior case law and determined that the five-day rule for delivery of a bill of particulars did not deprive the school board of its right to dismiss the teacher and that compliance with the statute is directory, not mandatory.

Tenured teacher dismissals are a minefield of legal issues. Contact Pam Simaga to help you navigate them.

Source: Pacernick v. Bd. of Educ. of Waukegan Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. No. 60, 2020 IL App (2d) 190959