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08/03/88 Johnnie Debernard, v. State Board of Education

August 3, 1988





527 N.E.2d 616, 172 Ill. App. 3d 938, 123 Ill. Dec. 153 1988.IL.1206

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. John W. Darrah, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE DUNN delivered the opinion of the court. INGLIS and REINHARD, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Johnnie DeBernard, was dismissed from her position as a contractual continued service (tenured) teacher by the Board of Education of Glenbard Township High School District No. 87 (Board). Pursuant to section 24-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 122, par. 24-12), plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before an impartial hearing officer. The hearing officer's opinion stated that plaintiff could resign within 30 days, and if she did not do so, the Board should consider her dismissed.

Rather than resign, plaintiff filed an administrative review action in the circuit court of Du Page County. The circuit court affirmed the decision of the hearing officer to terminate plaintiff's employment as a tenured teacher. This court allowed plaintiff's motion to file a late notice of appeal. On appeal, she argues the hearing officer's decision was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence; she was denied a fair hearing due to improper communication between the Board and the hearing officer; and the Board lacked jurisdiction to dismiss her because she had requested a medical disability leave before she was dismissed. We now affirm the decision of the circuit court.

Plaintiff began teaching in the District 87 school system at Glenbard North High School in 1971 as a science teacher and later was assigned to the math department. In 1982, she requested and was granted a transfer to the Glenbard West High School math department. In late 1983 and early 1984, complaints from parents about plaintiff were received, prompting classroom observations of plaintiff's teaching. As a result, the then mathematics department chairman made recommendations to plaintiff concerning techniques to maintain student interest and involvement, student completion of homework, and return of homework and tests to students in a timely manner.

Further parental complaints were received by Glenbard West principal Dr. Elliott in the spring of 1984, however, and plaintiff was informed that she would continue to be evaluated during the next fall term. Student disciplinary problems were reported in her study hall in the fall of 1984, and on December 3, 1984, the Board issued plaintiff a notice to remedy certain deficiencies. The notice informed plaintiff that she had failed to maintain sufficient student discipline in her study hall; that she had failed to satisfactorily report her absences to the department chairperson and formulate detailed lesson plans for substitute teachers; and that her instructional performance had been deficient in that she had not consistently provided adequate direction in presenting lessons, evaluated student learning, required student diligence in completing assignments, or required broad student involvement during lessons. Plaintiff was also issued a memorandum by Dr. Elliott further explaining the deficiencies and advising her of the evaluation procedures.

Although plaintiff remedied the first three noted deficiencies, observations of her classroom teaching performance led to the issuance of a second notice to remedy on April 2, 1985. The second notice informed plaintiff that the deficiencies listed in the fourth area of the first notice were revised and amended, setting forth in more detail the ways in which plaintiff's teaching performance was considered deficient. Plaintiff was again issued a memorandum explaining the notice and the evaluation procedures. She was also informed by Dr. Elliott that after the final observations scheduled for January 1986, her progress would be reviewed and that unless consistent compliance with the notices to remedy was exhibited, her dismissal would be considered.

During the remedial period, plaintiff's classroom performance was evaluated by Dr. Elliott, by Mrs. Grenier, the assistant principal for instruction, and by Mr. Bloxam, the mathematics department chairman. Each evaluation was followed by a conference with the observer during which any noted deficiencies were discussed. Following the final observations in mid-January 1986, plaintiff was informed by Dr. Stevens, the school superintendent, that she had failed to comply with the requirements of the notice to remedy and that he would recommend to the Board that she be dismissed. Plaintiff was suspended pending the next board meeting, and on February 10, 1986, she was dismissed by the Board.

Plaintiff requested a hearing, and one was held before an impartial hearing officer. Testimony was heard on several days and a lengthy transcript was generated. The administrators who had observed plaintiff teach testified to numerous occasions on which plaintiff had not performed as required by the notices to remedy, and script tapes of their observations were introduced into evidence. Plaintiff presented testimony from a mathematics expert, Dr. Weinzweig, who disagreed with certain criticism of plaintiff's mathematics teaching skills by Mr. Bloxam. Another witness identified inappropriate comments on the script tapes, which are meant to be objective and nonjudgmental.

Plaintiff also introduced evidence of her state of health, both physical and mental, during the remedial period. In November 1984, plaintiff consulted her internist, Dr. Kolbaba, regarding symptoms of illness. Dr. Kolbaba treated her for high blood pressure and diagnosed plaintiff as depressed. He treated her depression with medication, and, in August 1985, he recommended that plaintiff see a psychiatrist. She did not see a psychiatrist, however, until January 6, 1986, when she consulted Dr. Kayton. She had a second appointment with Dr. Kayton a week later, and he recommended that she take a disability leave from teaching. Although she requested a disability leave, that request was not acted upon, but, instead, she was informed that she would be dismissed.

At the Conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer issued a 120-page opinion which concluded that plaintiff could resign within 30 days or be considered dismissed. This determination was based on the hearing officer's findings that the evidence showed that she had failed to comply with the notices to remedy in the following respects:

"In seventeen evaluations, plaintiff did not state objectives of the lesson at the beginning of the lesson.

In five observations she did not outline for the students at the beginning of the lesson the ...

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