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Pickering v. Board of Education





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. MICHAEL A. ORENIC, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied March 27, 1967.

Marvin L. Pickering, a teacher in Township High School District 205, Will County, was dismissed from his position by the Board of Education. He brought proceedings for reinstatement but after a hearing the board confirmed the dismissal. On review the circuit court affirmed the board's decision, and plaintiff Pickering has taken further appeal directly to this court, claiming a constitutional question is involved.

He was dismissed after publishing a letter in the local newspaper criticizing the school board and the district superintendent of schools. On February 25, 1961, the voters of the school district turned down a proposal for the issuance of $4,875,000 in school building bonds to erect two new schools to accommodate freshmen and sophomores only to feed existing Lockport Central High School, which was then to accommodate juniors and seniors only. Upon defeat, this program was discarded. On December 2, 1961, the voters approved the issuance of such bonds in the amount of $5,500,000 to erect two new schools, one (Lockport East) to accommodate freshmen and sophomores only, which was to operate as a feeder school to Lockport Central, and the other (Lockport West) to be a full four year high school. Existing Lockport Central was then to accommodate juniors and seniors only on the East side of the district. The two programs were distinct and materially different in approach to the same purpose of providing all children of the district with a good common school education.

The letter published by the plaintiff reads as follows:

"Dear Editor:

I enjoyed reading the back issues of your paper which you loaned to me. Perhaps others would enjoy reading them in order to see just how far the two new high schools have deviated from the original promises by the Board of Education. First, let me state that I am referring to the February thru November, 1961 issues of your paper, so that it can be checked.

"One statement in your paper declared that swimming pools, athletic fields, and auditoriums had been left out of the program. They may have been left out but they got put back in very quickly because Lockport West has both an auditorium and athletic field. In fact, Lockport West has a better athletic field than Lockport Central. It has a track that isn't quite regulation distance even though the board spent a few thousand dollars on it. Whose fault is that? Oh, I forgot, it wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. It must have fallen out of the sky. Such responsibility has been touched on in other letters but it seems one just can't help noticing it. I am not saying the school shouldn't have these facilities, because I think they should, but promises are promises, or are they?

"Since there seems to be a problem getting all the facts to the voter on the twice defeated bond issue, many letters have been written to this paper and probably more will follow, I feel I must say something about the letters and their writers. Many of these letters did not give the whole story. Letters by your Board and Administration have stated that teachers' salaries total $1,297,746 for one year. Now that must have been the total payroll, otherwise the teachers would be getting $10,000 a year. I teach at the high school and I know this just isn't the case. However, this shows their `stop at nothing' attitude. To illustrate further, do you know that the superintendent told the teachers, and I quote, `Any teacher that opposes the referendum should be prepared for the consequences'. I think this gets at the reason we have problems passing bond issues. Threats take something away; these are insults to voters in a free society. We should try to sell a program on its merits, if it has any.

"Remember those letters entitled `District 205 Teachers Speak', I think the voters should know that those letters have been written and agreed to by only five or six teachers, not 98% of the teachers in the high school. In fact, many teachers didn't even know who was writing them. Did you know that those letters had to have the approval of the superintendent before they could be put in the paper? That's the kind of totalitarianism teachers live in at the high school, and your children go to school in.

"In last week's paper, the letter written by a few uninformed teachers threatened to close the school cafeteria and fire its personnel. This is ridiculous and insults the intelligence of the voter because properly managed school cafeterias do not cost the school district any money. If the cafeteria is losing money, then the board should not be packing free lunches for athletes on days of athletic contests. Whatever the case, the taxpayer's child should only have to pay about 30¢ for his lunch instead of 35¢ to pay for free lunches for the athletes.

"In a reply to this letter your Board of Administration will probably state that these lunches are paid for from receipts from the games. But $20,000 in receipts doesn't pay for the $200,000 a year they have been spending on varsity sports while neglecting the wants of teachers.

"You see we don't need an increase in the transportation tax unless the voters want to keep paying $50,000 or more a year to transport athletes home after practice and to away games, etc. Rest of the $200,000 is made up in coaches' salaries, athletic directors' salaries, baseball pitching machines, sodded football fields, and thousands of dollars for other sports equipment.

"These things are all right, provided we have enough money for them. To sod football fields on borrowed money and then not be able to pay teachers' salaries is getting the cart before the horse.

"If these things aren't enough for you, look at East High. No doors on many of the classrooms, a plant room without any sunlight, no water in a first aid treatment room, are just a few of many things. The taxpayers were really taken to the cleaners. A part of the sidewalk in front of the building has already collapsed. Maybe Mr. Hess ...

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