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Koerner v. Joppa Com. High School

OPINION FILED MAY 6, 1986.

RUSSELL K. KOERNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

JOPPA COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL, DISTRICT NO. 21, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Massac County; the Hon. Louis Horman, Judge, presiding. JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff appeals a judgment of the circuit court of Massac County rendered for defendant school district in plaintiff's action seeking a declaratory judgment that his dismissal as superintendent and tenured teacher of defendant school district was invalid.

The plaintiff, Russell Koerner, brought suit against defendant, Joppa Community High School District No. 21, to establish that he had a valid contract of employment as a teacher for defendant school district. Plaintiff brought this action after the board of education of the school district took measures to discharge him. Plaintiff relies on the contractual continued service sections of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 1-1 et seq.), specifically, section 24-12 of the Code which pertains to removal or dismissal of teachers in contractual continued service. That section requires that written notice of the dismissal be given to a tenured teacher "at least 60 days before the end of the school term." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 24-12.) Plaintiff asserts that the school district did not provide him with the 60-day dismissal notice that he is entitled to under that section.

At the hearing on plaintiff's action for declaratory judgment, both parties stipulated to the facts and presented issues of law to the court. The stipulated facts are as follows.

The plaintiff had been employed on an annual basis as superintendent of defendant school district for more than five consecutive years. While employed as superintendent, plaintiff retained his teacher's certificate. During February 1984, the board of education of defendant school district (hereinafter the board) determined that plaintiff would not be retained as superintendent for the following year. However, plaintiff retained his tenure as a teacher, having been a full-time employee of defendant school district for more than two consecutive terms. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 10-21.4.

Defendant school district is a municipal corporation duly organized under the State of Illinois and the School Code. Under the School Code, to discharge a tenured teacher a school district must give the teacher written notice of the dismissal at least 60 days before the close of the school term.

On February 28, 1983, the board prepared the annual calendar for the 1983-84 school year, which set the opening date on August 19, 1983, and the closing date on May 31, 1984. At a March 19, 1984, school board meeting, the board voted to change the closing date of school from May 31, 1984, to May 23, 1984.

At a later meeting on March 26, 1984, a continuation of the March 19 meeting, the board authorized the issuance of a written notice of dismissal to plaintiff, which was mailed on March 29, 1984. Plaintiff ultimately received the notice of dismissal on April 2, 1984, after having been given notice of the attempted service on March 31, 1984.

During the March 26 meeting the board also voted to declare May 24, 25, 29, 30 and 31, 1984, to be school holidays.

Plaintiff subsequently filed suit for a declaratory judgment on June 4, 1984, in the circuit court of Massac County, seeking a judgment declaring that plaintiff still had a valid contract with defendant school district. Plaintiff based his action on his contention that school had closed on May 23 and that, therefore, he did not receive notice of dismissal 60 days prior to the close of school as required by section 24-12 of the School Code.

A hearing on the issues of law involved in the case was held on February 27, 1985. Plaintiff's position was that the date school closed, May 23, 1984, was the "end of the school term" as that phrase is used in section 24-12. Defendant's view was that although the board voted to close school on May 23, such action did not constitute an amendment to the school calendar, and, therefore, the school term did not end until May 31, 1984, a date that would make timely the "60-day" notice given plaintiff.

• 1 The trial court held for the school district, finding that a 60-day notice of dismissal was given inasmuch as the close of the school term was May 31, 1984. In his appeal the plaintiff raises but one issue for review: whether the trial court erred in finding that the 1983-84 school term of the defendant school district did not end on May 23 when school was closed.

The issue can be simplified by focusing on whether the required 60-day notice of dismissal was actually given. We hold that the 60-day notice was not given and that the trial court erred in its finding that the 1983-84 school term did not end on May 23.

Whether there was 60-day notice of termination depends upon the interpretation of two resolutions of the board. The two resolutions in question are the resolution adopted at the March 19, 1984, meeting and that adopted at the March 26, 1984, meeting. There is no dispute that the March 26 meeting was a continuation of the March 19 meeting. The resolution of March 19 was:

"MOTION by Morse, seconded by Schmidt, to declare May 15, 1984, as graduation and closing of school on May ...


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