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Grissom v. Bd. of Educ. of Buckley-loda

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 16, 1977.

RICHARD GRISSOM, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF BUCKLEY-LODA COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 8 ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Ford County; the Hon. WILLIAM M. ROBERTS, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE GREEN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff Richard Grissom, a tenured teacher, was dismissed from his position by defendant the board of education of Buckley-Loda Community School District No. 8 (the board) following a public hearing. Plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Ford County (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 267) and the court affirmed the board's decision. Plaintiff appeals (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 276).

At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 57 years old and had taught since 1949. The Buckley-Loda District hired him in 1959 to teach agriculture. In 1971, the agriculture program at Buckley-Loda was discontinued and plaintiff was given an "honorable dismissal." He filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the circuit court of Ford County and the court awarded him damages and ordered that he be reinstated. Pending appeal, plaintiff was reinstated for the 1972-73 school year. An appeal and cross-appeal from that judgment was dismissed by this court. (11 Ill. App.3d 55, 296 N.E.2d 624.) Plaintiff was rehired for the 1973-74 school year while the board petitioned the supreme court for leave to appeal. The petition was denied during the September 1973 term (54 Ill.2d 592).

At a regular meeting on March 13, 1974, the board voted to proceed with plans to dismiss plaintiff as of the end of the 1973-74 school year. At a special meeting on March 25, 1974, the board voted "not to rehire" plaintiff for the 1974-75 school year. The following day, the president of the board and the district superintendent sent plaintiff a letter stating that the board had voted to seek plaintiff's dismissal from his position as a teacher effective May 31, 1974. The letter stated that plaintiff was dismissed for "incompetency and negligence, and because the best interests of the school system require such dismissal." The letter specifically charged plaintiff with (1) inability or failure to discipline students or appropriately maintain class discipline, (2) failure to protect school property, (3) inability or unwillingness to convey proper classroom instructions to students, and (4) failure to accept and act upon suggestions and directions from his superiors. The second charge was subsequently dismissed.

In a letter dated April 2, 1974, plaintiff requested a public hearing and a bill of particulars. The bill of particulars provided by the board listed some general observations pertaining to each charge, but no specific incidents, dates or names. Plaintiff's second request for a more specific bill of particulars was denied.

The hearing commenced on May 7, 1974, and continued on 10 subsequent dates throughout June, July and August. Five students from plaintiff's seventh grade math or social studies classes or his seventh-eighth grade study hall testified on behalf of the board. They stated that about a month after school started, the students in plaintiff's classes became very noisy and rowdy and that this unruliness interfered with their studies. Three of the students testified that they asked plaintiff for help on a number of occasions but he said he didn't have time, he had to "baby-sit" the class.

One of the students testified that plaintiff usually did not notice or ignored what was happening but on other occasions, plaintiff would lose his temper and would shake and tremble. The students also testified that when students were noisy or misbehaving, plaintiff would hit them with a meterstick or a hardbacked eraser. They also claimed that plaintiff slapped some students in the face. They related one incident in which plaintiff slapped a girl who swore at him. The testimony was conflicting on whether she hit plaintiff first.

On two other occasions, plaintiff took two different boys to the office or back to the study hall by putting his arm around the boy's neck in a choke hold. The school principal and the superintendent each witnessed one of those "choking" incidents. The principal testified that the student he saw was audibly gasping for air and that plaintiff threw the student to the floor. Plaintiff denied that he threw the student.

The school principal testified that toward the end of November 1973, he noticed an increase in the noise level coming from plaintiff's classes and observed that the discipline level had dropped considerably. Plaintiff complained to him that he was having problems with certain students and having difficulty keeping the class interested. As the school year progressed, plaintiff continued to become more agitated by these problems and when the principal tried to discuss these problems with him, plaintiff's voice would rise to a loud level, he would become very agitated, his face would get red and his hands would shake. The principal testified that he talked with plaintiff in November and December and made suggestions concerning teaching techniques and ways to correct the discipline problems. In January, February and March, he sent plaintiff several memos regarding classroom control in general as well as specific incidents which had been brought to his attention.

The superintendent also testified that he noticed plaintiff was having difficulty with his classes about 6 or 7 weeks after school started and that things got worse as the school year progressed. He had several discussions with plaintiff concerning plaintiff's teaching techniques, his attitude, and his use of discipline. In February, the superintendent notified plaintiff that he was relieved from teaching his seventh grade math class and from supervising a study hall three days a week. Before the close of the school year, plaintiff was relieved from all teaching duties.

Both the principal and the superintendent testified that there had been more discipline problems in the school than would be expected and that one of the boys in plaintiff's social studies class and study hall was a well-known discipline problem. However, the teacher who replaced plaintiff in the math class testified that he had no problems with the students in that class, that he established his rules and that students would be quiet and continue working if he left the room.

Three students from plaintiff's high school history classes testified on behalf of plaintiff. They stated that they thought plaintiff was a good teacher and that discipline in those classes was not a big problem.

Plaintiff testified that he had been hired by the Buckley-Loda District to teach agriculture and that in subsequent years he also taught physics, biology, chemistry and general science courses. For the 1973-74 school year, he was assigned to teach three classes of high school American history, one seventh grade math class and one seventh grade social studies class. He stated that he was not surprised at the history or social studies assignment, but was rather surprised at the math assignment because there was nothing in his record to indicate that he was qualified to teach math and he had never taught math except for one year when he taught all subjects in an elementary school class.

Plaintiff also testified that his doctor had put him on a diet in December 1973 and that afterward people told him he was agitated, but he did not think that he was so agitated or upset ...


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