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Pittel v. Board of Education

JUNE 26, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. NICHOLAS J. BUA, Judge, presiding.


This action was brought to seek administrative review of the school district's decision to dismiss the plaintiff, a tenured teacher. The trial court ruled that the Board's decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, but it nevertheless reversed on the ground that the cause for dismissal was remediable. The court further found that the Board did not violate plaintiff's right to freedom of association and that the Board did not fail to accord plaintiff due process of law.

On appeal, the following issues are presented for review:

1. Was the Board's decision contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence?

2. Was the cause for discharge remediable?

3. Did the Board violate plaintiff's right to freedom of association?

4. Did the Board fail to accord plaintiff due process of law?

At the time of her termination, plaintiff was employed by the defendant School Board as a teacher with tenured status. During her 13 years of teaching in the district, she received no disciplinary sanctions of any kind from the Board or the administration. It is undisputed that her professional evaluations as a teacher were very good.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers, Local 943, is the collective bargaining unit which represents the teachers in School District 111. Plaintiff, an active member, held various offices in the local chapter and served as chairman of the union negotiating committee. In this capacity, she negotiated all four of the collective bargaining contracts between the union and the Board.

The collective bargaining agreement provides for sabbatical leaves. It establishes a sabbatical leave committee which consists of the superintendent, an elementary school principal, and three teachers. The committee makes recommendations to the Board regarding sabbaticals. The agreement provides, "A sabbatical leave may be granted for formal study or research work or for travel, either foreign or domestic, in accordance with the applicable provisions of the School Code." It further states that a teacher on sabbatical leave shall receive her salary. The School Code *fn1 provides that a sabbatical "* * * leave shall be conditional upon a plan for resident study, research, travel or other activities proposed by the applicant and deemed by the Board to benefit the school system * * *."

Pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and the School Code, plaintiff requested a sabbatical leave for the 1971-72 academic year. On December 18, 1970, she requested a sabbatical leave "for the purpose of travel on the North American Continent and Europe." The superintendent advised the sabbatical leave committee that the Board probably would not approve applications requesting sabbatical leaves for purposes of travel but would only consider applications for purposes of study. Therefore, plaintiff was advised to resubmit her application stating the name of the school she would be attending and her "plan of study leading to a degree."

Plaintiff complied with the committee's instructions, although prior to that time no specificity apparently had been required regarding how teachers on sabbatical leaves would spend their time. On February 10, 1971, she submitted another written application for sabbatical leave along with a "Program of Studies for Advanced Degree" from Chicago State College. In her application plaintiff advised the superintendent, "It is my intention to take courses leading to a Master's Degree in Education at Chicago State College."

Subsequently, plaintiff attended a meeting with the sabbatical leave committee at which her program of advanced studies was discussed. She advised the committee that the courses needed for her degree were listed in the plan submitted to the committee. Her plan listed ten courses totaling 30 semester hours, to be completed "* * * at Chicago State College, 6800 S. Stewart Avenue, Chicago, Illinois." She further stated, "I could not assure the committee that I would complete that program during that year, during that coming year." The School Code's provisions on sabbatical leaves were read aloud to her at that meeting.

The committee then decided to recommend to the Board that plaintiff's request for a sabbatical leave be approved, and the Board granted its approval without discussion.

While on sabbatical leave for the 1971-72 academic year, plaintiff received her full salary. However, she successfully completed only 2 of the 10 courses listed in her approved plan. She took one additional course which was not on the list submitted to the committee and which she apparently had taken previously. During the fall 16-week trimester, from September 7, 1971, to December 23, 1971, plaintiff took two courses consisting of 6 hours. During the winter 16-week trimester, from January 3, 1972, to April 31, 1972, she took another course consisting of 3 hours. She did not attend the third 8-week trimester, from May 1, 1972, to June 24, 1972. She did not qualify as a full-time student during either of the two trimesters she attended classes, because Chicago State College requires at least 9 hours a trimester for full-time students while plaintiff took only 6 hours and 3 hours respectively. Moreover, none of the three courses taken by plaintiff were completed at the main campus of Chicago State College located at 6800 S. Stewart Avenue in Chicago. Instead, plaintiff attended evening classes at an extension of Chicago State that was located within the geographic boundaries of the defendant school district.

The Board first became aware of plaintiff's academic work for the 1971-72 school year in September, 1972, when it received a copy of her transcript. On September 26, 1972, the Board adopted a dismissal resolution for cause, effective December 8, 1972. The resolution charged plaintiff as follows:

1. Failure to comply with her written and approved plan; failure to attend Chicago State full time and failure to devote the entire period of the leave to the purposes for which it was granted;

2. Failure to report to her superiors that she was not following her approved plan;

3. Incompetence;

4. ...

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