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Miller v. Board of Education of Dist. No. 132

JULY 29, 1964.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. CHARLES S. DOUGHERTY, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


This appeal is taken from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cook County after a hearing reversing the decision of the Board of Education of School District No. 132, Cook County, Illinois, discharging Henry W. Miller, Jr. as a teacher in the said school district.

It appears from the record that at the time of the hearing before the School Board in 1960 the plaintiff was thirty years of age. He was born in Chicago where he attended elementary and high schools. He then attended the University of Illinois where he received the degrees of Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Health Education. From 1952 to 1954 he was a member of the U.S. Naval Intelligence. He served as an instructor at the University of Illinois from 1955 to 1958. He had worked as a member of the Aquatic Staff in the Chicago Boy Scout Camps and was a playground director in Evanston, Illinois. In AAU competition, in the weight-lifting meets, he was awarded the "Mr. Illinois" title in 1952 and the "Mr. Chicago" title in 1955. He was hired as a teacher at the Calumet School (School District 132) for the period commencing with the first day of the school term in September 1958. His curriculum consisted of health education and physical education. In physical education he taught speedball, touchball, basketball, volleyball, tumbling, balancing, wrestling, etc., and coached track and field, basketball and softball teams. In health education he taught mental and emotional health, hygiene, etc. He had no difficulty in six out of seven classes he taught. The seventh class consisted of approximately 45 seventh-grade boys, containing a half dozen with unusual behavior problems.

On April 13, 1960 three members of the Board of Education, during a regular meeting of the Board, voted to suspend plaintiff from his teaching duties, effective April 15, 1960. That resolution was duly recorded in the minutes. The minutes do not show what grounds, if any, were presented to justify the suspension. On the following day the superintendent of the school district wrote a letter to the plaintiff which stated that his services "were no longer required." The letter did not specifically state whether the plaintiff was suspended or discharged, nor did it give any reasons for the action taken.

On April 19, 1960 a letter was written by plaintiff's attorney to the Board. In that letter it was stated that the plaintiff did not concede or know of any reason which would entitle the Board to discharge him, and it was further stated that if the Board had some complaint or alleged cause for discharge, the assumption must be made that such cause for discharge would be of a type which would be remediable under Section 24-3 of the Illinois School Code, thereby requiring that plaintiff be given the "warning" notice provided for in the statute. The letter quoted the statute which provided:

"Before service of notice of charges on account of causes that may be deemed to be remediable, the teacher shall be given reasonable warning in writing, stating specifically the causes which, if not removed, may result in charges."

On April 27, 1960, at an adjourned meeting of the Board of Education, four members of the Board voted that the plaintiff be dismissed as a teacher and that a letter of notification should be sent to him to this effect. The minutes of the meeting do not set out any cause or causes for the dismissal. Apparently, no immediate notice of this action was given to the plaintiff.

It next appears in the record that a letter dated May 13, 1960 was sent by plaintiff's attorney to the Board demanding that the Board either file formal charges against the plaintiff or that it permit him to resume his teaching duties, or that his salary be continued while he remained available to go to work. On May 17, 1960, by registered mail, the Board formally notified plaintiff that he was dismissed as a teacher. No date was given when the dismissal was to become effective, but the grounds for the dismissal were set forth as follows:

"1. Inflicting corporal punishment on students, thereby injuring them, and thereby violating the rules of the Board of Education prohibiting corporal punishment.

"2. Swearing and using other improper language in the presence of students and teachers.

"3. Exhibiting an ungovernable temper.

"4. In the opinion of the Board of Education, the best interests of the school require your dismissal."

On May 19, 1960 the attorneys for the plaintiff, in a reply letter, excepted to the validity of the charges alleged against the plaintiff in the notice. The exceptions were that the written notice of such charges had not been served upon the plaintiff at least 60 days before the effective date of the dismissal; that charges, possible of correction, set out in the notice would require previous warning and notice in accordance with the School Code; and that the charges were so vague and indefinite that it was impossible to prepare a defense. Formal demand was made for a hearing and a bill of particulars. The School Board furnished a bill of particulars and public hearings were held. Eight such hearings were held from June 11, 1960 through September 26, 1960, at which thirty witnesses testified — twenty of them on behalf of the plaintiff. On October 20, 1960 the Board made its decision, finding the charges fully supported by the evidence, confirming its earlier action of April 13, 1960 suspending plaintiff and confirming its dismissal of plaintiff, the effective date of which was November 2, 1960. In the written decision of the Board one of the conclusions expressly set out was that the charges against the plaintiff were not of a remediable nature within the meaning of Section 24-3 of the School Code, thereby rendering the warning notice provision of that section inapplicable.

Under the provisions of the Administrative Review Act, the plaintiff took an appeal to the Circuit Court of Cook County, which court, on motion of the plaintiff, entered a summary judgment against the defendant, reversing the Board's order dismissing the plaintiff from his teaching duties. No question was raised as to the Board's decision on the merits, but the summary judgment was entered on the ground that the Board had not complied with the requirements of Section 24-3 in the giving of proper notice of dismissal. The Board appealed from the judgment of the Circuit Court. In its opinion in Miller v. Board of Education, 37 Ill. App.2d 451, 186 N.E.2d 790, the Appellate Court reversed the summary judgment entered in the trial court, restricting its holding to the point urged by the Board that the notice of dismissal was properly given relative to the 60-day period prescribed by the statute.

In this court, in the instant case, the Board contends that its finding dismissing the plaintiff as a teacher was supported by ample evidence. The plaintiff contends that the grounds alleged and upon which the hearings were predicated were remediable and that a proper determination of remediability had not been made by the Board of Education before the hearings commenced. It is also argued that the findings of the Board were against the manifest weight of the evidence, and that the plaintiff did not receive a fair trial before the Board.

The Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev Stats 1945, c 110, §§ 264-279) provides that upon review the findings and conclusions of the administrative agency shall be held to be prima facie true and correct and will not be set aside unless its decision is found to be without substantial foundation in the record or is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

According to Section 6-36 of the School Code of 1959 (Ill. Rev Stats 1959, c 122, § 6-36), a board of education has the right to dismiss a teacher for incompetency, cruelty, negligence, immorality or other sufficient cause. It also has the power to dismiss a teacher whenever, in its opinion, such teacher is not qualified to teach, or whenever, in its opinion, the interests of the school require it. Further, the provisions of the School Code which are called the Teacher Tenure Act, Sections 24-1 to 24-8, expressly provide that the power of a board to dismiss a teacher is in no way modified or diminished by the Tenure Act except with respect to the procedure of discharge. On the other hand, it has been held that the Tenure Act should be so construed that teachers who have qualified for contractual continued service are entitled to have the statute construed in a manner consistent with the prime purpose of protecting the favored status which they have earned. Hauswald v. Board of Education, 20 Ill. App.2d 49, 155 ...

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