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Peters v. Bd. of Education





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. CREED D. TUCKER, Judge, presiding.


In this appeal, we are called upon once again to interpret the tenure provisions of section 24-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 122, par. 24-12) as they apply to a full-time teacher who was dismissed as a result of faculty reductions in the respondent school district. The controversy focuses upon that portion of section 24-12 which requires the school board to dismiss teachers of lower seniority before dismissing a tenured teacher of higher seniority who is legally qualified to hold a "position" currently held by the teacher of less seniority.

On July 28, 1981, petitioner filed her petition for a writ of mandamus seeking reinstatement as a full-time teacher with respondent school district. Following a hearing, the petition was denied on August 18, 1981.

Petitioner, Janet Peters, a tenured teacher in the employment of respondent, began her duties in the 1976-77 school year. From 1976 through the 1980-81 school year she taught five English courses annually and occasionally supervised study halls. During those years, her English teaching assignments were uniformly divided as follows: two English III courses and three English II courses.

At the end of the 1979-80 school year, petitioner was honorably discharged due to a reduction in the number of teaching positions but was rehired for the following school year because of the retirement of another English teacher. Upon reinstatement, class schedules were shifted so that petitioner could be assigned to a case load identical to that which she had maintained in previous years. Throughout these years, other faculty, in varying degrees, also taught additional sections of English II and English III.

On April 1, 1981, petitioner was informed of her honorable discharge effective at the end of the school year because of a resolution adopted by the school district to "discontinue the particular type of teaching service in which [petitioner is] now engaged." Despite that claim by the school board, the course schedule for the 1981-82 school year reflected that one English teaching position remained unstaffed. Subsequent to petitioner's discharge, another teacher with less seniority than petitioner was hired to fill that English position. Petitioner made a demand upon respondent for reinstatement to teach courses in English and European history, both of which she was qualified and authorized to teach under the pertinent State teaching requirements and her certificate valid for high school 6-12 teaching.

Although respondent admitted that petitioner was certified to teach sections of English and European history, the school district refused to reinstate petitioner because there was no "position" in those areas, held by a tenured teacher of less seniority, which petitioner was legally qualified to teach in its entirety. The English position, subsequently filled by a teacher with less seniority, included one section of journalism, three sections of English, and required the teacher to manage the school yearbook and newspaper. Respondent argued that since petitioner is not legally qualified to teach journalism, a claim which petitioner does not dispute, she was not qualified to fill that position. Petitioner also sought to teach courses in European history which the evidence showed was synonymous with course offerings designated as "world history." Respondent argued that petitioner was not entitled to teach those sections of world history because they were included in a "position" consisting of two sections of world history and three sections of U.S. history, the latter of which petitioner is not legally qualified to teach. It is also undisputed that petitioner has never taught world or European history although she is legally qualified by the State Board of Education to do so.

In short, petitioner contends that she is entitled to be assigned the courses which she is legally qualified to teach but which now constitute only a portion of full-time positions as defined by the respondent school board. Respondent, on the other hand, argues that the board has wide discretion in defining the term "position" and that once defined, petitioner is only entitled to reinstatement if she can demonstrate that she is legally qualified to teach all of the courses encompassed within the "position" of the teacher she seeks to replace.

The tenure rights which petitioner seeks to invoke are based on those set forth in the School Code at section 24-12 which states in pertinent part:

"If a teacher in contractual continued service is removed or dismissed as a result of a decision of the board to decrease the number of teachers employed by the board or to discontinue some particular type of teaching service, * * * in all such cases the board shall first remove or dismiss all teachers who have not entered upon contractual continued service before removing or dismissing any teacher who has entered upon contractual continued service and who is legally qualified to hold a position currently held by a teacher who has not entered upon contractual continued service. As between teachers who have entered upon contractual continued service, the teacher or teachers with the shorter length of continuing service with the district shall be dismissed first * * *." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 122, par. 24-12.

The complex aspects of the problem have been succinctly stated in the oft-quoted language from Hagopian v. Board of Education (1978), 56 Ill. App.3d 940, 372 N.E.2d 990:

"The statutory term `position' becomes complicated because of the practice of self-contained classrooms for some grades, and departmentalization to some extent in the middle grades, and subject matter segregation for majors and minors in high school. School districts may exercise wide latitude and autonomy in determining which grades will be clustered and which subjects will be grouped under one teacher and which departmentalized. The courts> cannot allow school boards, whether in good or bad faith, to rearrange teaching assignments (positions) in ways which defeat the rights of tenured teachers and circumvent the purpose and spirit of the tenure laws." (56 Ill. App.3d 940, 944, 372 N.E.2d 990, 994.)

Since, in this case, two distinct issues are involved in determining whether petitioner is entitled to reinstatement and assignment to history or English courses, we must necessarily treat each aspect separately.

• 1 In order for petitioner to teach the world history courses, she would have to "bump" a teacher already assigned to those courses. As we have previously noted, to allow this would be to invite a chain reaction with senior teachers in turn preempting positions of the teaching assignments of those with less seniority. (Hayes v. Board of Education (1981), 103 Ill. App.3d 498, 431 N.E.2d 690.) In this regard, we cannot accept petitioner's contention that she has a right to pick and choose a class or two from teaching positions which she is otherwise unqualified to teach so as to ...

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