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Chicago Heights Sch. Dist. v. State Bd. of Educ.





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


Defendants, Illinois State Board of Education (State Board) and the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Joseph Cronin (Superintendent), appeal from an order of the trial court granting plaintiff, Chicago Heights Public School District 170 (District 170) summary judgment on count I of its complaint for declaratory relief. In its order, the trial court found that the Rules Establishing Requirements and Procedures for the Elimination and Prevention of Racial Segregation in Schools (Rules), promulgated by the State Board were arbitrary, capricious and illegal. The court further prohibited the State Board from enforcing the Rules against District 170 or from initiating or continuing any administrative action based upon the Rules.

On appeal, the State Board contends that: (1) the Rules are within the authority delegated to the State Board by the legislature; (2) the trial court erred in finding that the "15% rule" contained in the Rules is a rigid and inflexible end in itself and is therefore illegal; and (3) the trial court improperly ruled that the Rules do not provide adequate due process procedures for the school districts so affected.

The Rules were promulgated in 1971 by Michael Bakalis, the then Superintendent of Public Instruction, and were amended in 1976 and 1977 by the State Board. They were enacted by the State Board for the purpose of enforcing a 1963 amendment to the Illinois School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 1-1 et seq.) commonly known as the Armstrong Act. The Armstrong Act provides that:

"As soon as practicable, and from time to time thereafter, the board shall change or revise existing units or create new units in a manner which will take into consideration the prevention of segregation and the elimination of separation of children in public schools because of color, race or nationality." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 10-21.3.

Generally, the Rules provide that "attendance centers" or schools defined as racially segregated must take affirmative steps to achieve racial balance within their districts. An attendance center is deemed racially segregated and, thus, in "nonconformance" with the Rules if the minority racial composition of the pupils in attendance fails to reflect, within 15 percentage points, the minority racial composition of the pupils in the district as a whole. (Rule 1.4.) For instance, if a school district's total number of enrolled minority students is 25 percent, then each attendance unit within that district may have a minority enrollment which ranges from between 10 percent and 40 percent of the total minority enrollment, yet still not be considered in nonconformance. If a local district is in nonconformance, it is notified of this condition by the State Superintendent of Education who specifies the deficiency and requires the submission of a plan to achieve conformance. (Rules 3.2, 4.1.) The plan must detail specific actions and present a timetable for implementation and completion. (Rule 5.2.) Upon a finding that the plan meets the requirements of the Rules, the school is considered in compliance and must forthwith implement the plan. (Rule 6.2.) Thereafter, an annual review is made by the State Superintendent. If the plan is behind its timetable for implementation, the State Board may also find, after an investigation, that the local district is in "noncompliance." (Rule 6.5.) Essentially, noncompliance, under the Rules, is defined as the failure or refusal of a school to submit, amend or implement a plan within the specified time limits. (Rule 1.3.) A school found to be in noncompliance is placed on "Probationary Recognition" status by the Superintendent. (Rule 7.1.) After any school has remained on probationary recognition status for one year without complying with the Rules, it may be placed, upon the refusal to request an administrative hearing, on "non-recognition" status. (Rule 7.2.) Upon this change of status, the State Board will decline to accept or expend Federal funds otherwise available to the district. Rule 7.4(g).

Few facts concerning the present case require recitation, since the issues basically concern questions of law.

District 170 maintains and operates attendance centers for grades kindergarten through sixth at 10 school buildings. The district also maintains a single junior high school. In 1971, the district was informed that the Rules required submission of a report detailing the number of students of various racial groups enrolled in the district and a breakdown of the racial population of each attendance center within the district.

In a letter dated January 17, 1972, the Superintendent informed District 170 that it was not in compliance with the Rules.

After ensuing discussions between the parties, in 1974, the State Board again requested the submission of a plan enumerating the district's desegregation efforts. By letter, the district responded on June 3, 1974, that statistical compliance with the Rules required large-scale busing which was not feasible.

Nine months later, in March of 1975, the State Board informed District 170 that compliance with the Rules required a comprehensive desegregation plan, and that the June 3, 1974, letter-report did not constitute sufficient compliance.

On February 26, 1976, the State Board formally found District 170 to be in noncompliance with the Rules, as amended. The district submitted a plan to the State Board on April 7, 1976. Two weeks later, the State Board notified the district that the plan was deficient because it did not comply with the Rules. The district was placed on Probationary Recognition status effective April 21, 1976. Under the Rules, the probationary period was to last one year, but the State Board granted an extension until June 26, 1977, in order to permit the district time to review the desegregation plans submitted by a desegregation consultant employed by the Illinois Office of Education. District 170 submitted another plan on June 22, 1977.

In July of 1977, the Superintendent again notified the district that its plan was unacceptable under the Rules. The State Board then found the district to be in "continued noncompliance," and the district was served notice that, unless it requested an administrative hearing pursuant to the Rules, the district would be denied recognition 30 days from the receipt of the notice.

District 170 requested such a hearing in August of 1977 after the instant suit was filed, and subject to the condition that no hearing would be conducted until the court ...

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