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Hamer v. Board of Education





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Terrence J. Brady, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied February 21, 1986.

Plaintiff, Elinor M. Hamer, appeals from an order entered by the circuit court of Lake County granting summary judgment in favor of defendant, Board of Education of Township High School District No. 113.

Plaintiff graduated from Deerfield High School — one of the schools governed by defendant — in July of 1978. She was admitted to the only two colleges where she applied and at the time of the trial court's entry of summary judgment on May 23, 1984, was about to graduate from the University of Illinois with a 4.8 grade point average out of a possible 5.0. This case involves events which occurred while plaintiff was a high school student.

On September 19, 1975, plaintiff cut three scheduled classes to accompany a friend who had been subpoenaed to appear at a court hearing. When plaintiff returned to school, a school administrator met her and gave her an opportunity to explain why she had cut the classes. Plaintiff admitted that she left school without obtaining prior permission from school officials. The administrator informed plaintiff that her absences would be considered unexcused absences. School officials also reviewed the matter with plaintiff's parents.

Under a policy in effect at Deerfield High School, a teacher was permitted but not required to reduce a student's quarterly point score up to 3% for each of a student's first three unexcused absences from class. Quarterly point scores are used by teachers to determine a student's quarterly letter grades, which are computed twice a semester. A quarterly letter grade spans a 10% numerical range. For example, a student receives a B if he or she has a point score between 80 and 90. In academic courses, a student's two quarterly letter grades count 40% each toward the final semester letter grade, and a student's semester examination counts 20%. The final semester letter grade is computed by averaging the two quarterly letter grades and the grade received on the semester examination. Final semester letter grades are then used to determine the student's grade point average and class rank. Final semester letter grades are the only grades that appear on a student's official transcript and they alone are the grades disclosed to colleges and prospective employers.

Because of her unexcused absences, plaintiff's quarterly point scores were reduced 3% in the three classes she had cut. Given the grading system at Deerfield High School, a 3% reduction in a quarterly point score often has little or no effect on the student's final semester letter grade. In this case, when plaintiff left school on September 19, 1975, she missed two academic classes and one physical education class. Her final semester letter grades in the two academic classes were not affected by the 3% reduction in her quarterly point scores, and therefore neither plaintiff's grade point average nor class rank was affected. In her physical education course, however, her final semester letter grade was reduced from a B to a C. The record discloses that plaintiff also had another physical education grade reduced from a B to a C because of unauthorized absences unrelated to her absences on September 19, 1975. The grade reductions in physical education had no impact on plaintiff's academic standing, since physical education grades are not taken into account in computing a student's grade point average or class rank.

This lawsuit was originally filed on June 3, 1976. In the original complaint, Paul Hamer, plaintiff's father, named himself and his wife as plaintiffs and class representatives and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, asserting that defendant's policy of permitting quarterly point score reductions for unexcused absences violated various statutory and constitutional provisions. The trial court dismissed the complaint but granted Hamer leave to file an amended complaint.

On September 13, 1976, Hamer filed a first amended complaint, substituting as plaintiff "Elinor M. Hamer, a minor, by her father and next friend, Paul E. Hamer." Unlike the original complaint, the first amended complaint did not contain class action allegations. Plaintiff alleged that because she had missed three classes, "some of the teachers did reduce the grade average of the plaintiff, which reduced the final grade average and affects her class standing * * *." She further alleged that the grade reduction could interfere "with later opportunities for higher education and employment for the final grade average determines the class standing." Plaintiff charged, inter alia, that the grade reduction policy (1) deprived her of rights guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment; (2) violated the privileges and immunities clause of the fourteenth amendment; (3) inflicted "a cruel and unusual punishment on the students, particularly those children who had been suspended" in violation of the eighth amendment; (4) subjected suspended students to double jeopardy contrary to both the Illinois and Federal Constitutions; (5) constituted an ex post facto law with respect to suspended students; and (6) violated a student's right to an education guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution.

The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. On appeal this court reversed. (Hamer v. Board of Education (1978), 66 Ill. App.3d 7.) Although we found most of plaintiff's allegations to be without merit, we concluded that the first amended complaint was sufficient to state a cause of action with respect to whether the grade reduction policy had deprived plaintiff of any due process rights. Defendant sought review of our decision in the supreme court, but its petition for leave to appeal was denied. Hamer v. Board of Education (1979), 74 Ill.2d 586.

After the cause was remanded to the trial court, defendant filed its answer to the first amended complaint. In its answer defendant informed plaintiff that its records showed that she had suffered no reductions in final letter grades in academic courses, and thus her academic standing had not been affected by the challenged policy. Plaintiff then moved to file a supplemental complaint. In her supplemental complaint, plaintiff alleged that her "final course grades" had been reduced for being late to class. In addition, she sought to transform the lawsuit into a class action. The trial court permitted the filing of the supplemental complaint on August 7, 1981. Thereafter, defendant moved to dismiss the allegations relating to tardiness. In support defendant presented an affidavit of Dr. Donald Ring, assistant superintendent of the high school district. Ring stated that he had reviewed plaintiff's school records and found that none of her final letter grades were reduced because she was tardy to class, and her class rank therefore was not affected. Plaintiff responded to defendant's motion to dismiss the allegations concerning tardiness by arguing that a number of her quarterly point scores had been reduced because she was late to class.

After plaintiff filed her supplemental complaint containing class action allegations, she made no effort to obtain class certification. As a result, on April 1, 1982, defendant moved for an order determining that the cause could not be maintained as a class action. Defendant argued, inter alia, that the father-daughter relationship between the class attorney and the class representative constituted an absolute bar to class certification and that plaintiff was not a member of the class sought to be certified since she had suffered no injury.

Plaintiff countered by filing a series of motions. She moved to remove herself as the plaintiff and to substitute Marc and John Austwick as plaintiffs because they had been "more grievously injured by defendant." She also sought to add the individual members of the school board and the district superintendent as additional defendants. Further, plaintiff moved to file a second amended complaint. Unlike the earlier complaints which had requested only declaratory and injunctive relief, the second amended complaint requested compensatory and punitive damages. Finally, plaintiff moved to certify the action, with the Austwicks named as plaintiffs, as a class action. Plaintiff urged that there should be two subclasses, one composed of students currently attending high schools administered by defendant and another of students who had formerly attended high schools administered by defendant.

On May 13, 1982, the trial court (1) ruled that the action could not properly be maintained as a class action; (2) dismissed plaintiff's allegations regarding grade reductions for tardiness; and (3) denied the motions to substitute plaintiffs, to add additional defendants, and to file a second amended complaint. Plaintiff then moved to certify the trial court's order for appellate review pursuant to ...

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