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Jones v. Hannon

OPINION FILED MARCH 15, 1978.

BEULAH E. JONES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

DR. JOSEPH P. HANNON, GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE SIMON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

At issue in this appeal is the interpretation and application of the time periods contained in section 34-85 of the Illinois School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 122, par. 34-85) (the statute) and of Rule 4-30 of the Chicago Board of Education (the Board). The statute which deals with removal of teachers and principals for cause provides so far as pertinent to this case:

"No teacher or principal * * * shall * * * be removed except for cause, and then only by a vote of a majority of all members of the board, upon written charges presented by the general superintendent of schools, to be heard by the board or a duly authorized committee thereof. Written notice of such charges shall be served upon the teacher or principal not less than 20 nor more than 30 days before the date of hearing. * * * The hearing shall be held and the decision rendered within 80 days from the date of service of the notice; provided however, that continuances of said hearing granted at the request of the teacher or principal shall not be included in computing this 80 day period. * * * Pending the hearing of the charges, the person charged may be suspended in accordance with rules prescribed by the board but such person, if acquitted, shall not suffer any loss of salary by reason of the suspension."

The rule provides:

"The General Superintendent * * * shall have authority to suspend * * * pending trial as provided by statute, any member of the teaching force whenever, in his judgment, such action is warranted and advisable. A report in writing of such suspension, stating the grounds therefor, and signed by the General Superintendent * * * shall be sent to the person so suspended."

On January 3, 1976, plaintiff Beulah Jones, a long-time employee of the Board, was served with a notice by the Superintendent reading:

"Pursuant to Section 34-85 of The School Code and Section 4-30 of the Rules of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, you are hereby notified that you are suspended from your duties as the principal of Coles Elementary School effective immediately pending trial before a Trial Committee of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago as provided by statute on the charges of conduct unbecoming a principal in the Chicago Public Schools and failure to discharge your duties and responsibilities as a principal in said school." (Emphasis added.)

On February 11, 1976, the Superintendent formally referred the matter to the Board when he made a report which stated in part:

"THE GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS REPORTS that pursuant to the provisions of the statutes of the State of Illinois and the Rules of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, he has preferred charges against Beulah E. Jones, a principal in the Chicago Public Schools, charging said Beulah E. Jones with conduct unbecoming a principal in the Chicago Public Schools and failure to discharge duties and responsibilities as principal at Coles Elementary School.

REPORTS that on January 3, 1976, the said Beulah E. Jones was suspended from the service by the General Superintendent of Schools pending trial on said charges." (Emphasis added.)

On February 25, 1976, the plaintiff was personally served with, and also received by certified mail, copies of charges and specifications. She was also notified on that date that a trial on these charges would commence on March 25, 1976, before a committee of the Board. The charges set forth in this notice were identical with those contained in the Superintendent's notice of January 3, 1976, and those set forth in his report to the Board on February 11, 1976. The specifications served on the plaintiff on February 25, 1976, were not included in the Superintendent's prior notice to plaintiff.

The hearing began on March 25, 1976, and the Board's trial committee presented its report on May 12, 1976, recommending the plaintiff be discharged. The Board adopted that report on the same date.

The plaintiff contends that the time periods for hearing and decision are mandated by the statute and that they began to run on January 3, 1976, when the Superintendent first served notice on the plaintiff of the charges against her and of her suspension without pay. She argues that if January 3, 1976, is the date for triggering the time periods set forth in the statute, a hearing was not scheduled within the required 30 days from the plaintiff's receipt of notice of charges. She also maintains the decision was not rendered within 80 days from the date of service of the notice, as is also required by statute.

The Board, on the other hand, contends that the notice served on January 3, 1976, did not start the time periods provided for in the school code. The Board's position is that the Superintendent had the discretion under its rule 4-30 to suspend the plaintiff without pay, and although neither the statute nor the rule permits suspension for an indefinite period, they do allow suspension for a reasonable period of time before any hearing is scheduled by the Board. The Board contends its interpretation does not start the statutory times for the hearing date and the ...


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