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05/02/97 LEWIS E. v. JOSEPH A. SPAGNOLO

May 2, 1997

LEWIS E., MICHAEL E., JAMEL E., DEANNA C., VANESSA W., ANDREW N., ROBIN S., AARON M., ALIA M., RODERICK H., BY THEIR NEXT FRIENDS AND GUARDIANS AD LITEM, GWEN E., IOLO P., RUTHIE W., TERESA N., ANITA H., AND GAIL B., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
JOSEPH A. SPAGNOLO, STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION; THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION; THE BOARD OF EDUCATION, EAST ST. LOUIS SCHOOL DISTRICT 189; AND GERALDINE JENKINS, SUPERINTENDENT, EAST ST. LOUIS SCHOOL DISTRICT 189, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 95-CH-97. Honorable Richard A. Aguirre, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Hopkins delivered the opinion of the court. Kuehn, P.j., and Maag, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hopkins

The Honorable Justice HOPKINS delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiffs in this case are school children living in East St. Louis. They come to the court through their parents and guardians as next friends. Defendants are Joseph A. Spagnolo, the State Superintendent of Education; the State Board of Education (the State Board); the Board of Education, East St. Louis School District 189 (District 189); and Geraldine Jenkins, the Superintendent of District 189. Where applicable, we refer to Spagnolo and the State Board collectively as the State defendants and Jenkins and District 189 as the local defendants. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief, claiming that defendants have deprived them of a minimally safe and adequate education.

I. FACTS AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

On April 12, 1995, plaintiffs filed a complaint on behalf of themselves and a proposed class of all school-age children in District 189. The trial court has not yet ruled on the motion to certify the proposed class, because it dismissed the complaint with prejudice on September 5, 1995.

The 36-page complaint alleged that the State and local defendants had violated the education article of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. X, § 1), the due process clauses of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2) and the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. V), the School Code (105 ILCS 5/1-1 (West 1992)), and Illinois common law.

Because the trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, we review the factual allegations of the complaint de novo ( Joseph v. Collins, 272 Ill. App. 3d 200, 208 Ill. Dec. 604, 649 N.E.2d 964 (1995)), in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, accepting all well-pleaded facts and inferences to be drawn from those facts as true. Bivin v. Wright, 275 Ill. App. 3d 899, 212 Ill. Dec. 287, 656 N.E.2d 1121 (1995). The most basic question we must answer is whether the complaint alleges sufficient facts to establish a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. Bivin, 275 Ill. App. 3d at 902.

If the allegations of the current complaint do not state a cause of action, then we must decide if it clearly appears that no set of facts can be alleged that will entitle plaintiffs to recover, for if any possible set of facts could entitle plaintiffs to recover, then plaintiffs should be given an opportunity to amend their complaint. Cantrell v. Wendling, 249 Ill. App. 3d 1093, 189 Ill. Dec. 350, 620 N.E.2d 9 (1993). The decision whether to allow an amendment is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling on a motion for leave to amend will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion, but that discretion should be exercised liberally in favor of allowing an amendment if that will further the ends of justice. Any doubts should be resolved in favor of allowing amendments. Cantrell, 249 Ill. App. 3d at 1095.

In order to summarize the detailed complaint, we quote from the complaint's introductory section, which accurately reflects the specific factual allegations found in the body of the complaint:

"For themselves, and on behalf of all school-age children in East St. Louis School District 189 ***, Plaintiffs bring this class action to enforce their constitutional and statutory rights to a safe and adequate public school education.

By any reasonable measure, the public schools of District 189 are neither safe nor adequate. Strangers wander in and out of junior high schools. Fire alarms malfunction, and firefighters find emergency exits chained shut as they rescue children from burning schools. Classrooms are sealed to protect students from asbestos and dangerous structural flaws.

In dark corridors, light bulbs go unreplaced and rain seeps through leaky roofs. In heavy rains backed-up sewers flood school kitchens, boilers, and electrical systems, resulting in student evacuations and cancelled classes. Bathrooms are unsanitary and water fountains are dry or spew brown water.

In winter, students sit through classes wearing heavy coats because broken windows and faulty boilers go unrepaired. They struggle to learn using meager instructional equipment and tattered, dated textbooks. School libraries are locked or destroyed by fire. Children never know whether they will have a teacher, since District 189 is chronically short staffed, and teachers are often absent or disengaged from students.

In these squalid surroundings, and denied adequate instruction, children cannot reasonably be expected to learn. On standardized tests, District 189 students score significantly below students in other districts, and most fail to achieve official State minimum goals. Deprived of even a minimally adequate education, barely half the District's students graduate from high school, and many who manage to graduate are ill-prepared for skilled jobs, college or meaningful participation in a democratic society. Defendants are legally obligated to take all measures necessary to provide Plaintiffs with such an education, yet, for decades, [they] have knowingly allowed conditions and services to deteriorate so that District 189 now provides one of the worst school systems in the nation.

Plaintiffs bring this action to correct these intolerable and illegal conditions under the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois School Code ***, and the U.S. Constitution, each of which guarantees each child in Illinois an adequate public education in a safe environment. Plaintiffs also invoke the concurrent jurisdiction of the Court and bring their Federal Constitutional claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988.

Plaintiffs seek an order compelling Defendants to take all appropriate and meaningful measures to provide, at long last, the safe and adequate schools to which Plaintiffs and all Illinois children are entitled."

On September 5, 1995, the trial court granted defendants' combined motions to dismiss the complaint under sections 2-615(a) and 2-619(a)(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (a), 2-619(a)(1) (West 1994)). In the order of dismissal, the court determined that no constitutional, statutory, or common law "provide[s] a basis for these minor students to obtain the ultimate redress sought here[--]the judicial dismantlement of School District 189." Additionally, the court stated, "This is not to say that some of the wrongs asserted could not find judicial redress in some limited, narrowly defined, circumstances, but not, at the instance of these plaintiffs, under the circumstances herein alleged."

The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. We affirm the dismissal but find that plaintiffs should have the ...


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