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Chicago Bd. of Education v. Payne

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 22, 1981.

CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

ARTEE PAYNE, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



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

JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The Chicago Board of Education (Board) sought the dismissal for cause of tenured elementary school teacher Artee Payne, Jr. (Payne), pursuant to section 34-85 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 34-85). After an administrative hearing, an impartial hearing officer ruled that the Board's dismissal of Payne was improper. On judicial review instituted by the Board, the circuit court of Cook County reversed the hearing officer's decision. The central question raised on Payne's appeal from the circuit court's ruling is whether the court erred in finding that the hearing officer's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and contrary to law.

On August 30, 1978, the general superintendent of schools instituted proceedings with the Board against Payne, charging him with conduct unbecoming a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. This charge contained four itemized specifications, paraphrased as follows: (1) on or about February 6, 1976, Payne knowingly had in his possession a quantity of marijuana; (2) on or about January 19, 1978, Payne knowingly had in his possession a quantity of marijuana; (3) on or about the same date, Payne knowingly had in his possession a controlled substance; and (4) such conduct was irremediable. The Board adopted the superintendent's charge and specifications on the same date, and a hearing officer was appointed.

Hearings proceeded before that officer on four separate days. *fn1 Chicago policeman Thomas Skol related that he had stopped Payne for a traffic violation at about 5 p.m. on February 6, 1976. Skol asked Payne for his driver's license. As Payne was searching his pockets for the license, he pulled out a clear plastic bag containing a relatively small amount of a crushed green substance. Skol advised Payne of his rights. At some point during the ensuing conversation, Payne admitted that the substance was marijuana and was arrested. Skol recalled that Payne pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in return for a sentence of probation. Skol did not believe that Payne was performing any duties related to education at the time of the arrest.

Sergeant Emmett Boyd of the Chicago Police Department testified that he executed a search warrant on Payne's residence, a motel room, on January 19, 1978. Boyd searched Payne and found a white envelope containing crushed green plant and a small vial containing white powder. Payne was arrested.

Raymond Principe, a director of the Bureau of Teacher Personnel for the Board, stated that Payne holds a teaching certificate which entitles him to teach intermediate and upper grade school children. The age range of such children was 10-13 years. Principe learned of Payne's entanglement with the police when his superior, Dr. Nina Jones, informed him about a newspaper article on Payne's 1978 arrest. He contacted Payne and subsequently held a conference with him, where Payne denied the charge contained in the article and advised Principe that his attorney had told him to make no further statements.

On cross-examination, Principe related that he had no opportunity to view Payne at work in the classroom. No teacher evaluations of Payne indicated that he was under the influence of drugs while at school. The reports stated only that Payne was a good teacher. No complaints related to the charges against Payne had ever come to Principe's attention. He was unaware of any of Payne's students becoming involved with drugs as a result of Payne having been their teacher.

Dr. Nina Jones, assistant superintendent of personnel for the Board, had never met Payne. He first came to her attention when "someone called [her] and indicated that a teacher * * * had been arrested on a narcotics charge." She discussed the case with Principe and then made a report to the general superintendent.

Dr. Jones stated that she believed illegal conduct on the part of a teacher would have a deleterious effect on the school system as a whole and would have an impact upon the particular school involved. Dr. Jones did not receive any complaints from any particular person concerning Payne. She noted that Payne's evaluations were satisfactory.

After presenting Dr. Jones' testimony, the Board rested. Payne called Jerry Hunter, one of his fellow teachers. Hunter related that Payne's general reputation among his peers was that of a strong disciplinarian and a good teacher. He had not heard any bad reports about Payne's performance as a teacher. Hunter knew nothing about any association Payne may have had with drugs. He heard no complaints from parents or teachers concerning that matter. He was aware of the newspaper articles on Payne's arrest.

On cross-examination, Hunter noted that the articles produced a lot of discussion among teachers at the school. There was also some conversation about them among students. Hunter related that some teachers and students objected to Payne's removal from the school.

Freddie McGee, another of Payne's fellow teachers, stated that Payne had a good reputation among teachers, students, and parents. McGee knew of no involvement of Payne with drugs, nor of any students being influenced with drugs by Payne. The newspaper articles were the subject of general discussion among students and teachers. McGee agreed that information that a teacher was in possession of illegal substances would have a detrimental effect on the school system.

Jack Mitchell, a district superintendent for the Board, knew of no reports outside of the newspaper articles which connected Payne to drugs. The articles generated a lot of discussion among staff personnel at his office. He noted some parents were distressed that Payne was removed from his position at the school.

Payne testified on his own behalf. At the time of the hearing, he was in his 13th year as a teacher. Prior to that, he had been a fingerprint technician with the Chicago Police Department. At the school, Payne had a reputation as a disciplinarian. He was assigned the "problem kids," that is, children who were involved with gangs or were otherwise in trouble with authority. Payne presented ...


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