APPEAL from the Circuit Court of La Salle County; the Hon.
LEONARD HOFFMAN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE SCOTT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This appeal is brought by the School Directors of District No. 125, County of La Salle (hereinafter referred to as the defendants), to set aside an order of the Circuit Court of La Salle County which reversed the findings and decision of the Board of Education of District No. 125 which had dismissed Frank Rolando (hereinafter referred to as the plaintiff) as a teacher in the schools of the defendants' school district.
The plaintiff as a tenured teacher was employed to teach the sixth grade at the Lincoln Grade School in Oglesby, Illinois, for the school year of 1973-1974. It is evident that the plaintiff encountered some serious disciplinary problems as the result of misconduct on the part of five or six students, all of whom were boys. These students would not remain seated, made various kinds of noises, interrupted other students, threw paper wads, erasers, and ball point pens. There is also evidence in the record that one boy or possibly two boys drew pornographic pictures and another recited a filthy poem. There is no question but what there was a disciplinary problem in the sixth grade class which was under the control of the plaintiff. Confronted with this situation the plaintiff procured from a specialty store an instrument known as a cattle prod. The prod purchased by the plaintiff was a cylinder approximately two feet long with electrodes on one end that deliver a shock upon contact. The power source of the instrument was derived from five Size-C high-amperage heavy duty stock prod batteries. The instrument's intended use is to assist in herding or urging livestock to move. Throughout almost the entire month of October 1973, the plaintiff used the cattle prod to discipline unruly students. During this period of time five and possibly six boys were each on one or more occasions disciplined by the plaintiff by inflicting upon them an electric shock from the cattle prod. The recipients of the electric charges testified that such treatment hurt, stung, and made them shaky. Two students cried when a shock was administered to them. Several students asked the plaintiff not to shock them with the cattle prod but instead they preferred to have their name written on the blackboard under the caption of "Cowards List." The record discloses that other students, both boys and girls in the sixth grade class, witnessed the use of the cattle prod and that they considered the reactions of the recipients as being funny and that the disciplinary treatment was a "big joke."
On occasion the plaintiff would assure a student that he would not apply the cattle prod to him if he would behave, i.e., sit down at his desk, yet after the student complied the plaintiff, contrary to his statement, would administer an electric shock to the student.
In the early part of November 1973, the superintendent and principal of the school heard rumors as to the plaintiff's use of the cattle prod on students. Upon being interviewed the plaintiff admitted that he had used the prod for disciplinary reasons on certain children because they were bad.
On December 11, 1973, the defendants by personal service gave written notice to the plaintiff that he was to be dismissed as a teacher at the Lincoln School in Oglesby. The written notice of dismissal contained eight charges. The essence of the charges was that the plaintiff was charged with cruelty because of his use of the cattle prod on students, that he had never made an inquiry or sought a determination as to whether the physical and emotional condition of the students was such as to enable them to sustain and withstand the treatment meted out to them by the plaintiff. The notice further listed as reason for dismissal the use of the "Cowards List" and the defendants informed the plaintiff that the reasons for his dismissal were not remediable.
Subsequent to the notice of dismissal several hearings were had, evidence was presented and on February 7, 1974, the defendant board members rendered an administrative order, the effect of which was to terminate the plaintiff's employment as a teacher.
As we have previously stated, this administrative order was reviewed by the Circuit Court of La Salle County and the defendant school board's order of dismissal was reversed.
In this appeal several issues are presented for review, the first being whether the decision of the defendant board of education finding the plaintiff guilty of cruelty as defined by and within the meaning of the School Code was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Neither the plaintiff nor the defendants contend that because of tenure a teacher cannot be dismissed. Our School Code specifically sets forth various reasons or causes which justify the dismissal of a teacher, and one of the causes is a finding that the teacher is guilty of cruelty. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 122, par. 10-22.4.
The law is well settled that under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.) the findings and conclusions of an administrative agency on questions of fact are prima facie true and correct and the circuit court is authorized to set aside such findings only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. (Petraitis v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners (1975), 31 Ill. App.3d 864, 335 N.E.2d 126.) A particular administrative finding may not be adjudged against the manifest weight of the evidence unless from the record it appears that an opposite conclusion is clearly evident. (Sudduth v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners (1964), 48 Ill. App.2d 194, 198 N.E.2d 705.) The mere fact that an opposite conclusion is reasonable or that the trial judge might have ruled differently will not justify reversal of the administrative findings. Crepps v. Industrial Com. (1949), 402 Ill. 606, 85 N.E.2d 5.
Having set forth the well-established guidelines concerning the review of administrative findings it is incumbent upon us to apply them to the factual situation in the instant case. We first deem it quite pertinent to direct our attention to a portion of the trial court's written opinion which is as follows:
"Whether or not Rolando's use of the cattle prod upon unmanageable children was `cruelty' within the meaning of the statute can be argued ad infinitum. And with good reason from either side. * * *" (Emphasis supplied.)
While the trial court concluded that the acts of the plaintiff did not constitute cruelty, the language in the court's opinion that reasonable people would differ on that question clearly supports a determination that the administrative finding of cruelty on the part of the plaintiff was not ...