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Vance v. Board of Education

DECEMBER 28, 1971.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Tazewell County; the Hon. ARTHUR GROSS, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal from the circuit court of Tazewell County.

The plaintiff, Donald Vance, was 22 years of age when he graduated from Illinois State University in the month of June, 1969. Shortly thereafter he entered into a contract of employment as a teacher with the defendant, Board of Education of Pekin Community High School District #303. The contract provided that plaintiff would commence his teaching duties for the school term of 1969-70 on September 2, 1969. The plaintiff was to receive an annual salary of $6,800.00.

One paragraph of the contract contained the following language:

"It is further agreed that this contract is subject to the school laws of the State of Illinois, and to reasonable and lawful regulations of said Board of Education."

The plaintiff commenced teaching at Pekin Community High School on the designated contractual date of September 2, 1969. He taught courses in Economics and American Government. On September 29, 1969, the plaintiff was discharged from his teaching position by the defendant Board of Education.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint against the defendant alleging breach of contract and that he was entitled to damages in the amount of his unpaid salary for the school year of 1969-70. The defendant's defense was that the plaintiff breached his contract by his actions and thereby there existed a legal right to terminate the plaintiff's employment. The trial court found the issues in favor of the defendant and this appeal stems from that decision.

The record discloses that during the short period the plaintiff taught in the Pekin Community High School a number of complaints were made against his methods of instruction and the type of discussions that were taking place in his classrooms. These complaints were made to a Mr. Holman, the school Superintendent, by parents, faculty members and school board members. Shortly after the plaintiff commenced his teaching duties the Student Council had under consideration a new constitution. A member of the Student Council gave the plaintiff a copy of the proposed constitution for the student body and after reading it he advised the members of his class that the document gave the students no voice in the operation of the school system. Members of the Student Council who were not enrolled as members of his classes were invited to attend such classes and further discussion ensued about the students having no voice in the operation of the school. For three days the plaintiff discussed with a large number of students the subject of "student power" and how to achieve it. The plaintiff in discussing "student power" with his pupils and members of the Student Council who were present in his classroom stated that the only way to get anything changed was through demonstrations such as "walk outs." The record discloses that during this period of time when the plaintiff was disseminating such information there was considerable unrest among the student body and it culminated in an attempted walk out on the part of the students. There is no evidence, however, in the record that would support a finding that the plaintiff ordered the "walk out" or approved of it. However, never before in the school's history had such an atmosphere of unrest prevailed.

After receiving the complaints which we have mentioned regarding the plaintiff's teaching methods and type of discussions, the Superintendent, Mr. Holman, arranged for a conference with the plaintiff on September 23, 1969. In addition to Mr. Holman and the plaintiff this meeting was also attended by a Mr. Foote, who was the Assistant Superintendent of the school. After a discussion regarding the complaints which had been made against the plaintiff, Superintendent Holman then presented some written instructions to him and requested that he abide by them. Those instructions were as follows:

"I am informing you at this time that you are to cease the activities and statements that you admit to have been making, which encourage students to disrupt the educational activities of this school, that you will stop advising and teaching student to oppose the rules and policies of the school by the use of means other than through the established channels of student government, and that you will abide by the established policies and rules which apply to the professional staff.

"You are to leave school at this time to decide if you are willing to teach here under these conditions. You will report to my office at 8:00 tomorrow morning to give me your answer."

After receiving this written memorandum it was requested of the plaintiff that he verbally agree to abide by the instructions contained therein. The plaintiff requested that he be granted additional time to study the matter and further expressed a desire to consult with an attorney before arriving at a final decision. This request was granted and the plaintiff was given until September 25, at which time he was to reply to Superintendent Holman's request. This date, at the request of the plaintiff, was later extended to September 26. The memorandum of instructions presented to the plaintiff concerned his activities both during the classroom sessions and outside the classroom insofar as the school was concerned, but did not pertain to activities concerning his private life.

On September 29 the plaintiff appeared before the defendant Board of Education, at which time he presented the following statement:

"I would like to start by apologizing for the inconvenience and difficulty I have caused the Board of Education and the School system, the Pekin system. The Pekin system was one of my first personal choices of the school I wanted to teach at and I do want to continue at Pekin High. I have, in the last few days, given the situation a considerable amount of thought and I am willing to conduct my classes according to the standards of the community and according to the conditions set down by the Administration which I have already agreed to. I am willing to cooperate with the Social Science Department, its' chairman and the Administration. I realize, as a beginning teacher I will and have made mistakes. I ...

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