A DuPage County trial court recently allowed a suit against a Board of Education brought by two students to contest a Board report issued as part of a uniform grievance procedure (“UGP”) to continue. The case, A.J. v. Paskalides, is ongoing.
The Superintendent of Butler School District No. 53 received a complaint that the parents of two students cheated in the national Geo Bee competition by obtaining the test questions before the competition. The Superintendent investigated the complaint and determined that the parents and their children cheated. The Superintendent also prohibited the students from participating in any District-sponsored academic contests or team competitions and prohibited the parents from volunteering in any such events. In response, the parents filed a UGP complaint, which was investigated by the District’s attorney. The attorney interviewed the relevant people and reviewed documents before issuing her own report, which affirmed the Superintendent’s conclusions. Upon request of the parents, the Board reviewed the attorney’s UGP investigation report and findings. The Board adopted the report but amended one of the findings to note that only the parents, and not the students, had engaged in cheating.
The students, through their parents, brought suit in Illinois state court, seeking a review of the Board’s decision. The Board filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that: (1) plaintiffs had no right to sue in court for a review of a UGP decision issued by the Board; and (2) the student-plaintiffs did not have standing to sue when it was the parents, not the students, who filed the UGP. The court rejected both of the Board’s arguments and denied the motion to dismiss. The court held that, even if a report issued in response to a UGP complaint is not subject to the Illinois Administrative Review Law, the UGP response process was still a quasi-judicial proceeding because it included consideration of evidence submitted by both sides of the issue, factual findings, and a final determination that affected the individual plaintiffs. Consequently, the court concluded that the UGP report was subject to court review. The court also held that the students had standing to bring suit because, although the parents brought the UGP complaint, the UGP investigation report found that the students cheated (though that finding was amended by the Board), and the report resulted in sanctions against the students.
The court’s denial of the Board’s motion to dismiss simply means the plaintiffs are permitted to bring their claim in court. The parties now likely will engage in discovery and present arguments to the court on whether the plaintiffs’ claims have merit.
School boards are increasingly the target of lawsuits. Contact Rob Swain, Vanessa Clohessy, or Pamela Simaga with all of your school litigation inquiries.