Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County,
the Hon. John A. Krause, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE CLARK DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant Robert Slavin was a tenured elementary school teacher in Kane County when he was discharged by plaintiff, the board of education of Kane County School District No. 131, for allegedly abusing students in his class. The defendant State Board of Education conducted a formal hearing pursuant to section 24-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 122, par. 24-12). The hearing officer ordered Slavin reinstated, and the plaintiff filed suit in the circuit court of Kane County on November 12, 1980. The circuit court reversed the decision of the hearing officer and upheld the dismissal of defendant Slavin. The appellate court reversed (112 Ill. App.3d 696), and we granted plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal (87 Ill.2d R. 315(a)).
Robert Slavin had taught elementary school students in Kane County for 17 years prior to his dismissal in 1980. He had been employed at the Dieterich School since 1966 and was teaching a class of fourth graders when he began having serious disciplinary problems with four of his students. Slavin had an unblemished employment record prior to these disciplinary problems. His work performance was found to be satisfactory at a formal review on January 22, 1980.
Gary Lay was an 11-year-old student in Slavin's fourth-grade class during the 1979-80 school term. Gary had repeated kindergarten and was a year older than the rest of the students in the class. In November 1979, Slavin spoke with Gary's parents during a conference at the school. Slavin complained about Gary's behavior in class and told the parents that Gary had the impression he could do whatever he wanted in the classroom. Gary's father said that the boy behaved the same way at home.
Mrs. Sue Mary Lay testified before the hearing board that she noticed scratches and black and blue marks on Gary's body in February of 1980. When asked to explain what happened, Gary told his mother, "Mr. Slavin did it to me today, he grabbed and shook me." Slavin testified that Gary often carried on conversations with a girl who occupied the desk in front of his in class. On one occasion, Slavin was seated at his desk and ordered Gary to stop talking. When Gary continued his conversation, Slavin went to Gary's desk and pushed it away from the girl's desk. The front of Gary's desk flew up in the air as Slavin pushed it back. During the hearing, witnesses offered different accounts of the incident. Slavin insisted that he did not abuse Gary, while one student testified that Slavin picked up Gary and threw him into the desk with enough force to cause the front of the desk to fly up. On February 15, 1980, Mrs. Lay met with Slavin and the school principal, Mrs. Gwendolyn Miller. Slavin was not reprimanded for his behavior, but he agreed to send home weekly reports to Gary's parents. After this conference, Gary was asked to stand in the hallway whenever his conversations disturbed the rest of the class.
Tammy Parker was a 10-year-old student in Slavin's class during the 1979-80 school term. Tammy had been living with her mother, her mother's boyfriend, and two other children during January of 1980. Tammy's mother and her boyfriend abused Tammy by beating her with a strap and cutting her head with a tin can. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services obtained a court order removing Tammy from her mother's custody. Tammy's grandmother, Mrs. Norma Jean Mieno, was granted temporary guardianship.
Mrs. Mieno had several informal conversations with Slavin concerning Tammy's behavior in class. Slavin complained that Tammy often began singing and dancing in class and that such behavior bothered the other students. On February 22, 1980, Tammy began singing and dancing around her desk while Slavin was conducting class. Slavin told her to stop, but the disruption continued, and she was ordered out into the hall. Finally, Slavin grabbed Tammy by the arm and escorted her into the hallway. Slavin's fingernails were rather long at the time, and he scratched Tammy's arm when he grabbed her. The girl's arm was red and swollen, and she began to cry. Tammy threatened to tell her grandmother and the principal and get Slavin fired. Slavin discussed the incident with Mrs. Miller, the principal, and she told him that if Tammy misbehaved in the future, he should take her by the hand.
On February 26, 1980, Tammy began walking around the class and annoying other students. Tammy testified that she asked Slavin a question and Slavin told her to "Shut up and get out of my way." Slavin denied making this statement. Tammy continued to leave her seat and disrupt the reading lesson that was being conducted. Slavin warned her again, and finally took her by the hand and led her out in the hall. Tammy continued to disrupt the class by rattling the door and darting in and out of the classroom. Slavin warned her that he would call her grandmother if she continued to misbehave. When the disruptions continued, Slavin called Mrs. Mieno, describing Tammy's behavior, and asked her to take Tammy home. Slavin took this action without contacting the school principal, who was absent on the day of the incident.
Rex Rose was another 10-year-old student in Slavin's class. On February 21, 1980, Rex came home from school with three scratch marks near his armpit. Mrs. Marlaina Rose called the principal and accused Slavin of injuring her son. The following day, Mrs. Rose had a conference with Slavin and Mrs. Miller, and Slavin denied injuring her son. Mrs. Rose indicated that she wanted Rex transferred to another teacher's classroom, but Mrs. Miller suggested a two- or three-week trial period and scheduled another meeting for March 10, 1980.
On March 7, 1980, Slavin took the entire class outdoors to withdraw books from a bookmobile. Slavin observed Rex running along the sidewalk, and he ordered the boy back in line. Rex continued to misbehave by chasing other students and climbing a railing. Rex was ordered to the front of the line so the teacher could keep an eye on him. Slavin testified that Rex continued to disrupt the class after the students returned to the classroom. Rex walked around the room, talked to other students, sat on the floor, and interrupted class for almost 30 minutes. Rex testified that he was seated at his desk and he turned around to pick up a pencil that had rolled off his desk. Rex testified that "Mr. Slavin was at another desk, he came up to me, took me and threw me in my desk. I hit my head on the radiator, and hit my side on the corner of the desk." Rex began crying, and the class started to laugh. Slavin testified that Rex was away from his desk when he placed both hands on the boy's arm and walked him back to his desk. Slavin testified that Rex went "real limp" as they approached his desk, and that he accidently hit his head on the radiator when Slavin put him in his seat. Slavin testified that he called the principal on the intercom but could not reach her. The school secretary, Mrs. Beels, testified that Slavin did not use the school intercom on that day.
Rex put on his boots and coat and left school. Mrs. Rose testified that Rex came home crying, with a bruise on his rib cage and a scratch behind his ear. Mrs. Rose called the principal and arranged for a conference at 4:30 p.m. that day. The conference was held in the principal's office, and it was attended by Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Rose, Rex, Slavin, and James Valesano, the assistant superintendent for instruction in School District No. 131. Slavin was not given a written reprimand or told his conduct was in violation of school rules, but the principal did examine Rex and observed a bump and a scratch behind his ear, as well as a bruise on his rib cage.
Maurice Payne was also a pupil in Slavin's fourth-grade class. Mrs. Miller testified that Mrs. Payne called her on February 29, 1980, at 11 a.m. and told her that Maurice had come home from school. Later that day, a conference was held with Slavin, Mrs. Miller, Maurice, and Mrs. Payne in attendance. Slavin explained that Maurice disturbed the class and refused to return to his desk. Maurice explained that he was playing with a ruler. Maurice told Slavin that he was going home, and Slavin did nothing to stop him and did not notify the principal that the boy was leaving school. Slavin was not reprimanded or told that he had violated school board policy.
On March 19, 1980, the board of education of School District No. 131 dismissed Slavin from his position ...