Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James
C. Murray, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE MEJDA DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant, the Board of Education of Township High School District 214 (the Board), appeals from a judgment which declared that the Board's May 17, 1982, decision to close Arlington High School (Arlington) and to assign incoming freshmen to its other high schools was null and void, and enjoined implementation of the closing and mandated reassignment of the students in the area to Arlington as freshmen in the school year 1983-84 with necessary staff and services. We reverse. The pertinent facts are as follows.
Plaintiffs are two students, three resident taxpayers of School District 214, and a not-for-profit corporation formed August 10, 1982, to promote education in the Arlington and surrounding area. Defendants are the Board and School District 214, who operate eight fouryear high schools in Elk Grove and Wheeling Townships in Cook County, Illinois. Arlington High School was the first facility in District 214 and has an enrollment of approximately 1,500 students.
In April 1981 defendant Board, mindful of decreasing enrollment and increasing cost, determined that if enrollment continued to decline it would be necessary to close one or more of the eight high schools within District 214. At that time the Board assigned to its Planning Steering Committee (PSC) the duty of developing criteria to be used in selecting schools which would cease to function as comprehensive high schools in 1983-84 and 1985-86. Pursuant to a PSC recommendation that it involve the community in the criteria selection process, the Board, on September 14, 1981, empaneled three 40-member committees composed, respectively, of students of the eight high schools, citizens residing within District 214 and faculty and staff from the eight schools. The committees were instructed by the Board to identify and rank order the criteria to be used in determining which buildings would remain comprehensive high schools and to submit to the Board a written report with their recommendations for weighting of the criteria. The Board members did not participate in the meetings or deliberations of the committees. On November 9, 1981, each committee submitted to the Board a list of 12 criteria. At a public hearing on November 16, 1981, the Board solicited additional public opinion regarding the development of criteria for school closures. The Board limited the scope of the hearing to consideration of school closing criteria and declined to hear comments regarding individual schools.
The PSC consolidated the committees' criteria and recommended to the Board a final list of 12 criteria. The views of additional community members were elicited at a subsequent public hearing. At its December 14, 1981, meeting, the Board, with each of its members concurring, voted to adopt the School Consolidation Criteria. The preamble to the list of criteria states, in pertinent part: "The Board must soon make a decision. * * * If the decision is to reduce the number of full facilities, then steps will have to be taken to determine which buildings should cease to function as comprehensive high schools and when. To this end, the following list of criteria has been selected." The list which followed recommended retaining those schools which: (1) accommodate the most complete selection of programs for students; (2) have the lowest operating and maintenance costs; (3) will require the lowest expenditure for major maintenance, renovation and improvement; (4) minimize the number of students bused, the length of the bus ride, and the cost of busing; (5) are located in the areas with the largest potential for growth in student enrollment; (6) are least desirable for alternative use by District 214; (7) meet the government requirements for the physically handicapped; (8) minimize the number of students who have to transfer schools; (9) are least likely to be sold or leased to other organizations; (10) minimize the number of feeder elementary districts which feed into any individual high school; (11) are within close proximity to supportive services and facilities; and (12) serve the greatest need for community-based programs.
During the early months of 1982 the Board's administrative staff gathered and analyzed data relating to each of the 12 criteria, and the Board engaged a consulting firm to prepare demographic statistics and analyses based upon the 1980 census figures. On April 27, 1982, the Board received a report combining the demographic data derived from census reports with other factual information compiled by the administrative staff, including a weighting and ranking of the eight schools according to the 12 criteria. The report indicated that Arlington High School was the third least appropriate candidate for closing. The Board then instructed that certain of the criteria be reanalyzed regarding the three schools serving the earliest developed portions of the district — Arlington, John Hersey and Prospect High Schools. On May 3 the Board met and reviewed the revised report which ranked the schools as follows, with the least appropriate candidate for closing indicated by the highest score:
Prospect High School - 653 points Arlington High School - 635 points John Hersey High School - 565 points
Board members commented on the revised report and raised certain issues for additional research by the administrative staff and each Board member personally inspected each of the eight schools. At the May 17, 1982, meeting Board members received follow-up reports containing information relating to the concerns raised at the May 3 meeting. A motion to close Hersey High School in accordance with the May 3 revised report ranking it the most appropriate school for closing was defeated on a 5-2 vote. A motion to close Arlington High School then carried 5-2. The minutes of the meeting include a prepared statement from each Board member explaining his or her vote.
Plaintiff on November 17, 1982, filed the instant complaint in two counts. Count I alleged that the defendants created an illusion that the adopted criteria would be justly followed in selecting the school for closing; that they ignored the criteria in reaching their decision; that the decision to close Arlington was arbitrary and capricious; and prayed that the decision and actions of the defendants be declared null and void. Count II additionally alleged that immediate and irreparable injury will be done to plaintiffs and others and prayed that defendants be temporarily and permanently enjoined from closing Arlington.
The Board filed an answer admitting the steps leading to adoption of the criteria on December 14, 1981, without ranking or weighting, asserting that the criteria were never considered binding or as a mandate, but only as standards or norms; further stating that the report received April 27, 1982, from its employee was merely received; and that ultimately each Board member made personal individual judgments not necessarily governed by weights or rankings in any report. The answer denied any alleged injury. As an affirmative defense, defendant alleged that the elected members are charged with the duties and powers in the decision made by the Board. It denied that plaintiffs were entitled to any relief and sought judgment for defendants.
At trial, the court received depositions, documents and trial memoranda. Witnesses were presented by each of the parties, including the testimony of each of the Board members. The trial court entered a written decision which included a summary of the case, stating, inter alia, "The record does not establish that the defendant Board ever adopted the criteria previously mentioned as rules to be applied in reaching a final conclusion * * * that twelve criteria were not followed * * * in its final decision process. * * * a Board or `body' acts arbitrarily when [it] fails to either follow rules or criteria that it led the public to believe it would follow, or when it fails to make findings of fact as to why it did not. * * * Nevertheless, the court concludes that the establishment of criteria by a School Board, albeit for guidance or information only, compels a School District to either follow that criteria or give reasons in their decision as to why the criteria were not followed. * * * The court finds that their failure to do so in this case resulted in arbitrary action."
The court in the judgment order portion then made findings, inter alia, that defendants did in fact devise a procedure to follow in preparing to select a school for closing, by authorizing, on December 14, 1981, a set of criteria to serve as an objective standard against which candidate schools for closing were to be measured, and that the evidence shows that defendants disregarded the results. It then ordered that the decision of May 17, 1982, to close Arlington is arbitrary and capricious and null and void; and that defendants are enjoined from assigning current eighth grade students in Arlington attendance areas to other high schools and shall reassign them to Arlington and provide necessary staff and services to educate them as freshmen in the school year 1983-84.