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Snitowsky v. NBC Subsidiary

June 09, 1998

ROSALYN SNITOWSKY PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NBC SUBSIDIARY (WMAQ-TV), INC., D/B/A NBC FIVE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE (MARJORIE ADAMS, DEFENDANT).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice McNULTY

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable Joseph N. Casciato, judge Presiding.

WMAQ-TV broadcast a report that Marjorie Adams, the principal of Nettelhorst School, had charged Rosalyn Snitowsky, a special education teacher, with serious misconduct. Snitowsky sued Adams and WMAQ for defamation and invasion of privacy. The trial court dismissed the counts against WMAQ for failure to state a cause of action and because several privileges protected the reports. Snitowsky appeals.

On December 19, 1996, WMAQ-TV's 10 p.m. news broadcast included this report:

"Ron Magers: The alleged victim was only eight years old -- allegedly beaten by fellow students at the direction of the teacher. ***

Robin George: Ron, the incident happened in a special education class here at Nettelhorst School. The teacher was apparently trying to discipline an eight-year-old student when, some believe, she went too far. According to a police report, the teacher brought the child to the front of the room and held him down. She then told other kids in the classroom to come up one at a time and beat the child. A school security guard spotted what was happening as a fourth student was beating the victim and broke it all up. It was the school principal who filed the report with the Chicago Police Department. Now, the eight-year-old student we are told was not seriously injured. *** This is apparently not the first problem that they've had with the teacher. Just a month ago there was a meeting here with other concerned parents about this teacher."

The next morning, on its 6:30 a.m. newscast, WMAQ's anchor reported:

"A case of school discipline is under investigation by the Chicago Police Department. A teacher at the Nettelhorst School on North Broadway is accused of holding an eight-year-old special education student and then telling other kids to come up one at a time and hit that child in the face. A school security guard spotted what was happening and broke it up. It was the school principal who filed the report with the Chicago Police Department."

The 5 p.m. broadcast the same day included news of the "investigation of a report that a teacher allowed pupils to beat a special education child." Tracy Haynes elaborated:

"[N]o charges have been filed, and police say it's not likely that any will be. But the Board of Education is investigating, and parents are asking questions of their own.

The actual allegations are that the special education teacher Rosalyn Snitowsky held eight-year-old student Miguel Frias and instructed four other students to hit the boy. Snitowsky would not go on camera today, saying she can't do so until her teachers' union allows her to. But she did tell us quote, 'That there was a couple of kids that punched him,' and, 'I held his hands.' She says that's what happened when he became disruptive. But Snitowsky does say that she restrained the boy while trying to break up a fight, and there are those who feel good about Snitowsky's work.

***

But today the Chicago Board of Education relieved Snitowsky of her classroom duty.

Blondean Davis [from the Chicago Board of Education]: We have reassigned her to the central office pending the results of the investigation. If the allegations are correct, then we intend to seek to terminate her from the service of the system.

Haynes: Rosalyn Snitowsky has worked for Chicago public schools since 1978 and has no record of complaints against her. Chicago police say they've found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in their investigation." Finally, at 10 p.m. that day, WMAQ anchor Carol Marin reported:

"Parents react tonight to reports of alleged abuse at a Northside elementary school, and the Board of Education is beginning its investigation. Students at Nettelhorst Elementary were reportedly allowed to hit an eight-year-old special education student while the teacher allegedly held him down. Parents are shocked.

Michelle Williams: That really upsets me, and I would really think about taking my daughter out.

Marin: The teacher, Rosalyn Snitowsky, tells NBC-5 that she did restrain a boy while trying to break up a fight. Snitowsky said quote, 'There was a couple of kids that punched him.' 'I held his hands...' (when he became disruptive). The Board has reassigned Snitowsky pending the investigation."

According to Snitowsky's complaint, on December 19, 1996, Frias, an eight-year-old student in Snitowsky's class, tried to push a desk into the table where Snitowsky sat, then he punched another student. Snitowsky called Adams' office and asked for a security officer. Snitowsky heard no page of the security officer, and the officer did not come to the classroom.

Frias kicked Snitowsky and tried to bite her. Other students began to attack Frias. Snitowsky attempted to restrain Frias and protect him from the others. Snitowsky filed a discipline form regarding the incident. Adams interviewed each student separately.

Adams asked to see Snitowsky after dismissing the students for the day. Adams told Snitowsky the students said Snitowsky held Frias down and told the other students to punch him. Snitowsky denied the charge and began to recount the incident. Adams refused to listen and told Snitowsky they would discuss it the next day. Adams later called the ...


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