APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. JOHN S.
PAGE, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE LINDBERG DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied May 9, 1980.
Plaintiff, Board of Education for School District 131 (the Board), discharged defendant, John P. Murray III, from his position as a teacher of educable mentally handicapped (EMH) students at Aurora East High School, on April 4, 1977. His discharge was reversed, and he was ordered reinstated following an administrative hearing. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 24-12.) The Board sought administrative review (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 24-16), and the Circuit Court of Kane County reversed the decision of the hearing officer as against the manifest weight of the evidence. Murray appeals.
Murray was hired as a full-time teacher by the Board in 1966, and assigned to teach EMH students at East High School in 1969. The record fails to disclose any evaluations of Murray for the school years beginning in 1969 and 1970. An evaluation for the 1971-72 school year, while favorable in part, criticized Murray in two areas: (1) classroom discipline and control, and (2) teaching techniques in that his teaching assignments lacked structure and he failed to give clear instructions to the students. Again the record fails to disclose further evaluations for the school years beginning in 1972 and 1973. Near the end of the 1974-75 school year, Murray again received a partly unfavorable evaluation although it was less adverse than the earlier evaluation and its criticism could be characterized as constructive.
Murray was on sick leave from October through December 1975. The record discloses that in October, he accused certain teachers of participating in a "sex ring" with female students and that this charge was never substantiated. Murray returned to his teaching position in January 1976.
Most of the evidence at the administrative hearing concerned Murray's performance in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 school years. In January of 1976, an evaluator criticized Murray for failing to schedule constructive activities for his class. In February of 1976, Murray was similarly criticized for his handling of a classroom assignment, which was the reading of a play. A conference was held with the school administration as a result, and Murray was advised that his teaching methods were deficient in that he failed to plan for classes, failed to maintain an adequate standard of instruction, and failed to complete the department's assigned duties.
In March of 1976, defendant was again observed and criticized for his lack of instructional planning. A formal evaluation found Murray deficient in a number of areas including rapport with students, familiarity with subject, variety of teaching techniques, effectiveness of class activity, and teacher's evidence of preparation. The evaluation also stated that Murray showed some improvement, but that the deficiencies listed in the February conference memo still had not been completely removed. Murray was rehired for the next school year, but was not awarded a salary increase.
Murray was issued a formal notice to remedy in April of 1976 which listed the following deficiencies in his performance as a teacher: (1) failure to provide effective instructional planning, (2) failure to maintain positive learning activities, and (3) failure to cooperate with colleagues in department-related matters. However, Murray was rehired for the 1976-77 school year.
Close supervision and observation of Murray continued throughout the 1976-77 school year. Written reports were compiled as a result of this observation and four of the five reports in the record were critical, while one could be considered complimentary. On February 4, 1977, Murray was advised again of deficiencies in his teaching performance. A written list citing failure to plan effectively for class, failure to establish the proper rapport with students, and failure to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, and giving examples of each alleged failure was given to Murray. Murray signed a statement that he had discussed this report with school administrators and that he felt 45 days was an adequate length of time to remedy all of these deficiencies. On February 22, 1977, a second formal notice to remedy was sent to Murray by the Board. This notice mirrored the deficiencies noted in the February 4 memo. Murray was closely monitored during March of 1977. These evaluations, which are discussed in some detail below, were partially unfavorable; however, each noted that Murray was making some improvement.
On April 4, 1977, the Board voted to dismiss Murray for cause. The first reason listed for dismissal was that Murray had failed to remedy the deficiencies cited in the February 22 notice to remedy. Also listed were four general charges: (2) negligence, (3) insubordination and failure to cooperate with supervisors, (4) incompetency, and (5) that the best interests of the school required his dismissal. A bill of particulars was also filed by the Board in an effort to clarify the general charges (i.e., 2 through 5) of the dismissal notice.
A hearing was convened as required by statute. A detailed written memorandum and special findings of fact were made by the hearing officer. The hearing officer reversed Murray's discharge of April 4, and ordered his reinstatement as a teacher with full tenure rights. On administrative review, the circuit court reversed, ruling that the hearing officer's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Murray appeals.
1 The purpose of section 24-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 24-12) is to assure teachers of experience and ability a continuous service and rehiring based upon merit rather than upon reasons that are political, partisan or capricious. (Relph v. Board of Education (1977), 51 Ill. App.3d 1036, 366 N.E.2d 1125.) On administrative review, this court must determine whether the procedures required by law were followed and, if so, whether the decision of the finder of fact was against the manifest weight of the evidence. (Fender v. School District No. 25 (1976), 37 Ill. App.3d 736, 347 N.E.2d 270.) The Board cites cases (see, for example, Gilliland v. Board of Education (1977), 67 Ill.2d 143, 365 N.E.2d 322) for the proposition that the finding of a school board must be sustained unless found contrary to the evidence. However, these cases predate the present dismissal procedure which provides for the appointment of an independent hearing officer in teacher dismissal disputes. (Grissom v. Board of Education (1979), 75 Ill.2d 314, 388 N.E.2d 398.) Under the now controlling statutory provisions "[o]nly one decision based on the evidence submitted is provided for, and this is the decision of the appointed hearing officer." (Board of Education v. Epstein (1979), 72 Ill. App.3d 723, 726, 391 N.E.2d 114, 116.) Thus the general issue presented by this appeal is whether the decision of the hearing officer reinstating Murray is against the manifest weight of the evidence. The more specific issues are (1) whether the hearing officer erred in striking charges 2 through 5 of the Board's dismissal notice, and (2) whether the hearing officer erred in finding that the Board failed to provide a reasonable remediation period and that its first charge of a failure to remedy is not supported by the evidence.
The hearing officer struck charges 2 through 5 on the bases that the Board failed to make a finding of irremediability with respect to these charges, that these charges were excessively vague, and that in any event they were unsupported by the evidence. The Board seeks to assign error to the striking of these charges on a number of alternative grounds. Thus the Board argues that the charges are in fact irremediable or that its notices to remedy, which are the heart of charge 1, also ...