The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCUSKEY, District Judge.
On November 30, 1999, Plaintiffs Roosevelt Fuller, Gregory Howell,
Terence Jarrett, Errol Bond, Shawn Honorable and Courtney Carson
(students) filed their First Amended Complaint (# 29) against
Defendants, Decatur Public School Board of Education School District 61
(School Board), Superintendent Kenneth Arndt, School Board President
Jacqueline Goetter, and five members of the School Board. The students
brought their First Amended Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The students sought declaratory and injunctive relief, essentially
seeking an Order reinstating them in school. A trial was held on December
27, 28, and 29, 1999.
The students in this case argue that they were expelled by the School
Board for a period of two years because of a "zero tolerance" policy
which punished them as a group, denied their constitutional rights and
was racially motivated. The students additionally argue that they were
stereotyped as gang members and racially profiled by the actions of the
School Board. The students claim that, because the fight was of a short
duration and that no guns, no knives, and no drugs were involved, no
expulsion was warranted for their actions in the fight.
After reviewing the evidence presented at trial, this court finds that
the students have failed to meet their burden of proof on all issues
presented and are not entitled to a declaratory judgment or injunctive
relief. The court further, finds that the School Board did not act
illegally, improperly or deny, the students their constitutional rights.
The School Board's expulsion of the students will stand.
At the outset, this court wants to emphasize that the students in this
case were involved in a violent fight in the stands at a high school
football game. None of the students testified at trial and they have
never denied their involvement in the fight. This court observed from the
videotape presented at trial that the fight involved many individuals
raising havoc in the midst of a captive audience of football fans, which
included parents, grandparents, teachers and children. Because of the
violent nature of the fight, a portion of which was captured on
videotape, approximately one-half of the spectators in the bleachers
scattered and left the stands to avoid confrontation and possible
injury. It is undisputed that seven spectators, six students and one
adult, filed accident reports at MacArthur High School following the
incident. These reports showed that a 15-year-old female student stated
that people landed on her during the fight and when she got up to run she
was kicked down by a person involved in the fight and heard her back
pop. A 15-year-old male student complained that he was struck in the left
cheek and suffered a contusion to his face. In short, this court is not
impressed with the students' position that because no knives or guns were
the melee that it was not a significant fight. Just because no weapons
other than fists and feet were used by the students does not mean that
innocent bystanders were not harmed, frightened and forced to flee the
stands to avoid serious injury.
This court firmly believes that the citizens and students of Decatur
should be able to go to a high school football game and watch the contest
on the field without worrying about a violent confrontation erupting in
the stands which could engulf them in the conflict. If the School Board
had failed to take action against these students or otherwise ignored
their conduct at the game, the students who were not involved in the
fight, as well as the citizens of Decatur, might be led to believe that
the School Board was unable to control conduct in the schools.
It is also important to recognize that the Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals recently noted that the Supreme Court "`has repeatedly emphasized
the need for affirming the comprehensive authority of the States and of
school officials, consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards,
to prescribe and control conduct in the schools.'" Boucher v. School Bd.
of School Dist. of Greenfield, 134 F.3d 821, 827 (7th Cir. 1998)(quoting
Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 507, 89
S.Ct. 733, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969)).
This court has carefully considered each of the claims raised by the
students in their First Amended Complaint. The court first concludes that
each student received notice of a hearing before an independent hearing
officer and before the School Board. Also, each student received a
separate hearing before the hearing officer and had an opportunity to
appear and present witnesses. Further, each student had a hearing before
the School Board and had the opportunity to address the School Board.
Accordingly, this court concludes that the students' procedural due
process rights were not violated.
Second, this court concludes that the students did not present any
evidence which established that the School Board's decision to expel them
for engaging in violent behavior was in any way based upon race. The
students' evidence consisted solely of statistics which were complied
during the course of trial and did not exist prior to trial. These
statistics failed to establish that any similarly situated Caucasian
students were treated less harshly. Further, Jeffrey Perkins, one of the
African American members of the School Board, was called as a witness by
the students. Perkins was questioned about the School Board's decision in
this case and said that he could not testify that race was "an issue in
the decision to expel."
Third, this court concludes that the students completely failed to
establish that the School Board had a "zero tolerance policy." The
evidence showed that, on August 25, 1998, the School Board adopted a
resolution which declared a "no-tolerance position on school violence."
However, the evidence presented by the students' own witnesses showed
that this resolution had no impact on student disciplinary cases. Perkins
testified that he did not recall any discussion by the School Board about
the resolution during any expulsion hearings. Dr. Walter Amprey, the
students' expert witness, testified that he reviewed the documents
related to the discipline of these students and did not recall ever
seeing the term "zero tolerance."
This court will now set forth a detailed analysis of the facts of this
case, the claims raised by the students and the law supporting the
The following facts are summarized based upon the testimony the court
heard at trial and the joint exhibits which the parties stipulated into
evidence. The joint exhibits consisted of all of the documents presented
to the independent hearing officer, a transcript of the hearings before
the hearing officer, the hearing officer's reports and the records from
the relevant School Board meetings.
Roosevelt Fuller (Fuller) and Errol Bond (Bond) were students at
Stephen Decatur High School; Gregory Howell (Howell) and Shawn Honorable
(Honorable) were students at Eisenhower High School; and Terence Jarrett
(Jarrett) and Courtney Carson (Carson) were students at MacArthur High
School. All three high schools are located in Decatur, Illinois, and are
part of Decatur Public School District No. 61 (District). On Friday,
September 17, 1999, a football game was held at Eisenhower High School
between Eisenhower and MacArthur High School. Approximately six minutes
into the third quarter of the game, a fight broke out in the bleachers on
the east end of the football field, the bleachers where fans of MacArthur
were sitting. Both Ed Boehm (Boehm), principal at MacArthur, and Walter
Scott (Scott), principal at Eisenhower, were present at the game. Boehm
testified that the bleachers on the east end were pretty close to being
full of spectators, including students, parents, teachers and
grandparents. Boehm said the fight started on the north end of the
bleachers and traveled all the way to the south end. Because of the
fight, the spectators in the east bleachers were scrambling to get away.
Boehm said he saw fans "jumping over the rail, coming down trying to get
onto the track" and "running up the bleachers trying to get away."
According to Boehm, when the fight was over, the bleachers were
approximately one-half full. Boehm testified that spectators who were in
the east bleachers during the fight expressed fear, stress and turmoil
when he talked to them after the fight. Boehm stated that he had never
seen a fight of this magnitude in his 27 years in education.
Gary J. Hunt (Hunt), director of human resources for the District, also
testified that he was present at the game. He was sitting near the top of
the east bleachers when he observed the fight going on below him. Hunt
testified that the fight started at the stairwell near the north end of
the bleachers and proceeded into the bleachers where it moved along the
bleachers from the north end to the south end. He saw people running out
of the stands and up the bleachers to get away from the fight. After the
fight ended, Boehm and Hunt were following three students suspected of
being involved in the fight. Scott attempted to stop the students, and
one of the students involved in this action pushed Scott and left the
A videotape taken by a spectator seated in the west bleachers was
admitted into evidence. The videotape showed approximately the final
one-third of the fight. The videotape showed a violent fight where the
participants were punching and kicking at each other, with no regard for
the safety of individuals seated in the stands watching the game. The
videotape also showed that spectators in the bleachers were scrambling to
get away from the fight.
On September 23, 1999, Kenneth Arndt (Arndt), Superintendent of Schools
for the District, wrote a letter to the parent or guardian of each of the
students. Each letter stated that a hearing had been set before a hearing
officer, gave the date, time and location of the hearing, and stated that
the parent or guardian and the student "are herewith requested to appear"
at the scheduled hearing. The letter stated that "[y]ou are not required
to attend, however, if you desire you may attend and also have an
attorney and witnesses present."
The letter listed the provisions of the District's Student Discipline
Policy and Procedures (Discipline Policy) each student was charged with
violating. Each student was charged with violating: Rule 10, Gang-Like
Activities; Rule 13, Physical Confrontation/Physical Violence with Staff
or Students; and Rule 28, Any Other Acts That Endanger the Well-Being of
Students, Teachers, or Any School Employee(s). A copy of these provisions
was attached to each letter. The letter also stated that the
administration was recommending that the student be expelled for two
years. Each letter stated that the final decision on expulsion would be
made by the School Board. The letter included the date and time of the
special meeting of the School Board which had been set to consider the
expulsion of each student. The evidence showed that the parent or
guardian of each of the students received this letter prior to the
A separate hearing was held before Dr. David O. Cooprider (Dr.
Cooprider) for each of the students. These hearings took place on
September 27, 28 and 29, 1999. Dr. Cooprider was the Regional
Superintendent for Macon and Piatt Counties until April 1999. He is
currently one of the hearing officers under contract to conduct expulsion
hearings for the District. At each hearing, a document was introduced
into evidence which showed that each student had signed a form stating
that he received a copy of the Discipline Policy. Evidence was also
presented at each hearing regarding the involvement of that particular
student in the fight. This evidence consisted of statements from
eyewitnesses and testimony from school administrators regarding their
investigation of the fight. The evidence at each of the hearings also
included the testimony, report, or both, of Doug Taylor, a Decatur police
officer assigned to Eisenhower High School as a police liaison officer,
regarding his investigation of the fight. The evidence showed that each
of the students was an active participant in the fight.
In addition, at most of the hearings, accident reports were made part
of the record. These reports showed that seven bystanders were injured
during the fight. These bystanders included six students at MacArthur
High School and one adult. The injuries complained of were mainly
bruises. However, a 15-year-old female student stated that people landed
on her during the fight and when she got up to run she was kicked down by
a person involved in the fight and heard her back pop. A 15-year-old male
student complained that he was struck in the left cheek and suffered a
contusion to his face.
Dr. Cooprider prepared a Hearing Officer's Report regarding each of the
students. The Report listed all persons who attended the hearing on
behalf of the District and on behalf of the student. The Report also
listed the exhibits entered into the record and summarized the testimony
presented by each witness. Dr. Cooprider concluded, based upon the
evidence presented at each hearing, that "there is ample evidence that
the incident may fairly be characterized as violent physical
confrontation, and certainly as actions which endangered students, school
personnel, and school visitors." He also concluded that each of the six
students was a significant participant in the September 17, 1999,
incident. Accordingly, in each Report, Dr. Cooprider recommended that the
student be expelled for two years.
On October 1, 1999, the School Board held a special meeting to consider
the expulsion recommendation of Dr. Cooprider regarding Fuller and
Jarrett. The School Board voted to go into closed executive session to
discuss the student disciplinary cases." Two persons from the
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition were allowed to address the Board during the
closed session. The School Board then reviewed the videotape of the fight
at Eisenhower High School on September 17, 1999. The School Board also
reviewed Dr. Cooprider's Reports regarding Fuller and Jarrett. Fuller and
his mother, Ms. Fuller, were present at the hearing and were allowed to
address the School Board in closed session. Reverend Bond also addressed
the School Board on behalf of Fuller. The School Board returned to open
session and voted to expel Fuller for two years. In a separate vote, the
School Board also voted to expel Jarrett for two years.
On October 4, 1999, the School Board held a special meeting to consider
Dr. Cooprider's expulsion recommendation regarding Howell, Bond, Carson
and Honorable. Again, the School Board voted to go into closed executive
session to discuss the student disciplinary cases. In closed session, the
School Board reviewed the videotape of the incident at the football
game. Howell then was allowed to appear before the School Board with his
mother, Ms. Howell, and Dr. Jeanelle Norman (Dr. Norman). They asked that
Howell be allowed to withdraw from school. The School Board agreed to
allow Howell to withdraw. A document was signed by Howell and Ms. Howell
which stated that Ms. Howell was voluntarily withdrawing her son from
school, in lieu of having an expulsion hearing.
Bond, his father, and a representative of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
were allowed to address the School Board on behalf of Bond. No one
appeared to speak on behalf of Carson or Honorable. The School Board
reviewed Dr. Cooprider's Reports regarding Bond, Carson and Honorable.
The School Board returned to open session and, in separate votes, voted
to expel Bond, Carson and Honorable for two ...