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Washington v. Board of Education

decided: May 20, 1974.

ROBERT J. WASHINGTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS FORMER ACTING PRINCIPAL OF THE WASHINGTON SCHOOL, DISTRICT 89; THE PARENT TEACHERS ORGANIZATION OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL, AN UNINCORPORATED ILLINOIS ASSOCIATION; AND IDA MAE FORESIDE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A MEMBER OF THE PARENT TEACHERS ORGANIZATION AND OF THE CONCERNED WASHINGTON SCHOOL PARENTS AND TAXPAYERS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION, SCHOOL DISTRICT 89, COUNTY OF COOK, STATE OF ILLINOIS, A BODY POLITIC AND CORPORATE; JOSEPH BELLINE, JOSEPH IOSCO, CHARLES ALTONEN, VINCENT ZALENGA, JOSEPH PUNITO, WILLIAM E. TIMOTHY AND JOHN C. VAUGHNS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MEMBERS OF BOARD OF EDUCATION, DISTRICT 89; H. T. PETERSON, ACTING SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOL DISTRICT 89, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; AND DANIEL COGLIANESE, SUPERINTENDENT OF BUILDINGS AND GROUNDS FOR DISTRICT 89, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS DE FACTO OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 72 C 2219 THOMAS R. MCMILLEN, Judge.

Cummings, Pell, and Stevens, Circuit Judges.

Author: Pell

PELL, Circuit Judge.

In June 1972, Robert Washington, acting principal of Washington School, a public elementary institution in Maywood, Illinois, was told by the district superintendent that he would be reassigned in the fall as a classroom teacher in a different school. Two weeks later, the Board of Education ratified the demotion and transfer, which entailed a substantially lower salary than Washington had been receiving. Subsequently, Washington, the Parent Teachers Organization of Washington School (P.T.O.), and a member of that organization filed a civil rights complaint alleging that the officials had acted in retaliation for plaintiffs' exercise of rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.*fn1

The district court held that the plaintiffs other than acting principal Washington had no standing under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 to complain of the wrongs allegedly committed. The court therefore dismissed the action as to those plaintiffs. Relying in part on Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 20 L. Ed. 2d 811, 88 S. Ct. 1731 (1968), and several teacher nonretention decisions from this circuit, the court further concluded that plaintiff Washington had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

I

The complaint (and accompanying exhibits) reflect the following.

In October 1971, defendant district superintendent Peterson appointed Robert Washington acting principal of Washington School when the then principal, who later resigned, was suspended. Peterson "by statute and delegation [was] charged with supervising the day to day operation of the schools . . . [and was] empowered to hire, suspend, remove and transfer employees of District 89 subject to ratification by Defendant Board." In a confirmatory letter dated November 19, 1971, the superintendent stated that Washington would be acting principal until either the Board of Education approved a new principal or Peterson terminated the appointment. Plaintiff was to receive two weeks' notice.

The following month, when superintendent Peterson requested the Washington faculty and the P.T.O. to recommend a permanent principal, both groups named Robert Washington. On several occasions thereafter, Peterson indicated that the recommendations would be followed.

On January 25, 1972, the Executive Board of the P.T.O. determined the agenda for its February 8th meeting. The principal or acting principal of Washington School is an ex officio member of the P.T.O. Board. The agenda adopted included discussion of the following issues: (a) the $6 book fee assessed annually against each child in the school district; (b) the Board's rejection of a preliminary proposal for $217,000 in federal funds; (c) the Board's failure to fill the principalship vacancy at Washington School; and (d) the Board's failure to assign a full-time nurse at the school.

On January 27th, the defendants issued a news release announcing that plaintiff Washington had been named principal of Washington School. A few days later, defendants submitted to plaintiff for his signature a contract for the 1971-72 academic year designating him "Acting Principal."

Several days before the scheduled February P.T.O. meeting, P.T.O. members were sent a bulletin, sent over the name of the P.T.O. president, containing the agenda for the coming meeting. On the bulletin were the words "Approved: R. J. Washington, Acting Principal."

During this period, Washington was interviewed by a local reporter about "what student needs have to be met to provide quality education." The acting principal's remarks, some of which touched topics on the P.T.O. agenda, were quoted at length in a February 9, 1972, article in the Maywood Herald. At least three other District 89 principals were quoted in the local press in February on educational-financial problems.

Plaintiff maintains that "these two instances of the exercise of free expression . . . -- the approval of (or perhaps failure to censor) the P.T.O. agenda, and the Maywood Herald article of February 9 -- cost him his job as principal." He points to a two-page memorandum listing "Reasons for decision to reassign," which he was given in June 1972 by superintendent Peterson. The bulk of the memorandum was devoted to what it denominated "your two major actions against the ...


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