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Board of Education of Rich Township High School District No. 227

December 30, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 95 CH 9540 Honorable Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Tully

Defendants are residents of a small residential real estate development and subdivision known as the Greens (Greens) in Olympia Fields, Illinois. Defendants seek to detach the Greens from Rich Township High School District 227 (Rich Township) and annex to Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 (Homewood-Flossmoor) pursuant to the provisions of 7-2b of the Illinois School Code. 105 ILCS 5/7-2b (West 1994).

Plaintiffs, Rich Township and Willis Brunson, the former President of the Board of Education of Rich Township District 227, object to the detachment and assert defendants' are racially driven and therefore the grant of this detachment from Rich Township violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The Illinois School Code permits the residents of a school zone to move the territory from the jurisdiction of one school district to another by petition, provided that two-thirds of the zone's residents approve, the tract contains 10% or less of the valuation of the ceding district, and the resulting district will be contiguous. 105 ILCS 5/7-2b (West 1994).

Section 6-2(b) requires a joint board composed of the board of trustees of each township affected by the proposed detachment and annexation (Joint Board) assemble and conduct an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the filed petition to detach. 105 ILCS 5/6-2(b) (West 1994). There must be a unanimous vote of all affected townships to effect any proposed boundary change. 105 ILCS 5/7-04(a) (West 1994). Four townships were affected by this petition: Bloom, Bremen, Rich and Thornton.

Residents of the Greens have voted four times to detach from Rich and annex to Homewood-Flossmoor between 1992 and 1993; the first two attempts were dismissed by the hearing board for failure to comply with statutory procedural requirements and the third was denied for failure to present evidence regarding the equalized assessed valuation of the Greens.

The fourth petition, which gives rise to the instant proceedings, was filed on December 20, 1993. In January, 1994, plaintiffs countered by filing a petition to remove to Federal Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331. (28 U.S.C. 1331).

In February, 1995, the Federal Court remanded the matter to the Joint Board holding it did not have proper jurisdiction because an administrative agency is not the equivalent of a state tribunal for purposes of removal. Consequently no justiciable violation of civil rights had yet occurred.

The Joint Board scheduled and conducted a hearing on the previously filed petitions in May, 1995. Three townships voted to grant the petition for detachment. However, Thornton denied the petition concluding defendants failed to establish the exact number of registered voters residing in the Greens at the time the petition was filed as required by 7-2b. The vote was not unanimous, therefore the petition to detach was denied.

Defendants filed a timely motion for rehearing pursuant to 7-6(n). 105 ILCS 5/7-6(n). The Joint Board granted the motion and ordered defendants to file the written evidence required by the Thornton decision within 10 days. Defendants complied and the Joint Board granted the petition to detach on August 29, 1995.

Petitioners filed a complaint for administrative review in the Circuit Court of Cook County on October 4, 1995. The complaint also contained three separate counts alleging the detachment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV) and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. sec. 2000d et. seq.) as well as an attack on the facial constitutionality of section 7-2b.

The circuit court affirmed the Joint's Board's decision to grant detachment based upon the requirements of 7-2b but remanded the matter to the Trustees to "entertain constitutional questions."

Pursuant to the trial court's remand order, the Joint Board conducted hearings regarding the constitutional claims asserted by plaintiffs and rendered a final administrative decision and order denying the petition for detachment on August 28, 1997. Each township rendered a written decision setting forth its findings of fact and conclusions of law as to the constitutional claims. Unanimity of opinion absent, the Joint Board denied the detachment upon consideration of plaintiffs' constitutional challenges.

On March 4, 1998, the Circuit Court entered an order stating in relevant part: "The Township Trustees should have granted the Defendants' petition and allowed the detachment and annexation pursuant to 105 ILCS 5/7-2b. As the Order of November 15, 1996 indicated, Defendants had complied with all of the conditions and requirements of Section 5/7-2(b). The Township Trustees, pursuant to Section 5/7-2(b), are not empowered to consider any evidence other than those necessary to determine whether the conditions of the Section had been met. The Order of September 27, 1996 was intended to have the Township Trustees develop a record of constitutional claims and arguments, but not for the purpose of basing the detachment decision on that constitutional record.***" The circuit court reversed the Joint Board's decision and granted detachment.

Plaintiffs appeal from the Circuit Court orders entered March 4, 1998, April 24, 1998 and June 5, 1998. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 301. (155 Ill. 2d R 301).

The issues raised on appeal are whether: (1) the petitions signed by the residents of the Greens are sufficient as a matter of law; (2) the Joint Board conducted a proper hearing; (3) the Joint Board erroneously granted defendants' motion for rehearing; (4) the circuit court applied the proper standard of review; (5) the circuit court erred in reversing the Joint Board's decision; (6) the circuit court ...

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