Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. John
S. Teschner, Judge, presiding:
JUSTICE STROUSE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This matter was brought by plaintiff as a complaint for administrative review of the decision of a hearing officer appointed by the State Board of Education to hear charges on the dismissal of plaintiff, a tenured teacher. The hearing officer upheld the dismissal, and plaintiff sought administrative review in the circuit court of Du Page County. The circuit court affirmed the hearing officer's decision.
Plaintiff, Nance McBroom, was a tenured physical-education teacher employed by the board of education of District No. 205 (board) for approximately 12 years and was chairperson of the girls' physical-education department at York High School during the 1982-83 school term. During her tenure with the district, plaintiff maintained an excellent work record. Plaintiff holds a certificate to teach kindergarten through grade 14 physical education.
District 205, which serves approximately 6,500 students, consists of eight elementary schools, three junior high schools, and one high school. Physical education is taught at all levels by specialized physical-education teachers. The district is composed of several communities: Elmhurst, part of Bensenville, and part of Oakbrook.
During the 1983-84 school year, plaintiff was given a leave of absence by the board. Plaintiff sought reinstatement from her leave status for the 1984-85 school year. The district dismissed plaintiff for theft of a $290 social security check.
Plaintiff testified before the hearing officer that on May 9, 1983, while checking and straightening the girls' locker room, she found an endorsed check for $290 in a wastebasket. She retrieved the check from the wastebasket and placed it in her desk after completing her work in the locker room. The check was payable to a student, Marci Spaulding, and her mother, Beverly Spaulding. Plaintiff knew Kelly Spaulding, Marci's sister, but made no effort to return the check. She took the check from her desk along with another check payable to plaintiff, and according to plaintiff, she went to her bank to cash her check. At the bank, plaintiff informed the teller of her account number and cashed her check. Plaintiff also requested that the teller cash the $290 check. The teller asked plaintiff how the check came into her possession, and she replied that she had found it.
Marci testified that she had left the check in her purse which she hid under clothes in an unlocked locker while she participated in a physical-education class. Immediately upon discovering the loss, Marci notified the bank that the check had been stolen. When it was presented by plaintiff, the bank refused payment and retained possession of the check. Plaintiff was arrested at the high school later that day by an Elmhurst police officer for theft of the check.
Four days after the arrest, the May 13, 1983, edition of the Elmhurst Press carried a front-page article, entitled "Teacher Charged with Check Theft." The article named plaintiff and described the theft as occurring at school. A week later, on May 20, 1983, the Elmhurst Press again carried a front-page article which reported that felony burglary charges against plaintiff for theft of the check had been dismissed. On September 2, 1983, the Elmhurst Press, under the headline "Warrant Issued for York Coach in Theft," reported that plaintiff had failed to appear to answer misdemeanor theft and deceptive practices charges in the Du Page County circuit court in regard to the theft of the check.
On November 8, 1983, plaintiff pleaded guilty to theft of the check in the circuit court and was sentenced to pay a fine and court supervision. She satisfied the conditions of her supervision and was discharged. At the sentencing hearing, the following stipulated facts were presented to the court: plaintiff's conduct was morally and criminally wrong; she knew what she had done and was capable of bringing her conduct into conformance with the law; and she had been humiliated in front of her peers and in the Elmhurst community as a result of the issue being raised in the newspapers.
On November 11, 1983, the Elmhurst Press reported that on November 8, 1983, plaintiff had been found guilty in the Du Page County circuit court on charges of theft and deceptive practices and was fined and sentenced to court supervision until May 8, 1984. The Elmhurst Press is the only local newspaper in Elmhurst, a city of approximately 44,000 residents. The newspaper has a total circulation of approximately 7,000 copies in Elmhurst. The city of Elmhurst is virtually coterminous with the school district.
The theft and arrest also received considerable notoriety among persons directly connected with the school district. During the months after plaintiff's arrest, approximately 50 students expressed their shock to Marci Spaulding over plaintiff's misconduct. Ronald Chambers, dean of students and director of pupil services at the high school for 14 years, testified that two or three days after the arrest, two girls came into his office to discuss "a problem." The girls related that they had been raised to respect teachers who should serve as examples for students, but that as a result of plaintiff's misconduct, they did not know whether they should believe their parents or teachers anymore. Mr. Chambers also testified about a telephone call he made to a parent to discuss a student-discipline problem. Rather than focusing on the issue of her son's misconduct, the parent talked about plaintiff and how inappropriate it was to have a thief on the school staff. Finally, while performing his daily hall monitoring duties, particularly during student passing periods, following plaintiff's arrest, Mr. Chambers observed that "it seemed like everybody was talking about * * * Ms. McBroom."
Clark Fisher, a life-long resident of Elmhurst with 21 years of employment at the high school as a teacher, coach, dean, and assistant principal, testified to a dozen or so communications concerning plaintiff's misconduct from neighbors and parents of students at the high school. In one such communication a high school student's mother challenged the suspension of her son from school for theft when faculty members were stealing in the building. Similarly, Dr. Russell Thiems, the superintendent of the district, testified to having received between 18 to 25 communications from parents of district students about plaintiff's misconduct. Mr. Cosgrove, an Elmhurst resident and a member and secretary of the board, testified to three different conversations, a year after the theft, with officers or members of the high school's parent-teacher association. They were concerned about the detrimental effect that plaintiff's return to the district would have on the students, particularly in regard to the teaching of discipline and honesty.
Dr. Thiems and Mr. Fisher testified that teachers in the district are expected to follow section 27-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 27-12), which provides:
"Honesty, kindness, justice and moral courage. Every public school teacher shall teach the pupils honesty, kindness, justice and moral courage for the purpose of lessening crime and raising the standard of good citizenship."
Dr. Thiems further testified that the board expects the ethical conduct of teachers to be impeccable. These expectations are conveyed to teachers by teacher evaluations and other documents. The primary method in which teachers are expected to comply with section 27-12 is by serving as an effective role model, which is particularly important at the high school where significant student-theft problems have persisted. Dr. Thiems stated that students "do not simply learn through ...