The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Burke
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Ellis E. Reid, Judge Presiding.
Plaintiff Board of Education of Community Consolidated School District No. 54 (Board) appeals from an order of the circuit court, entered upon administrative review, confirming a hearing officer's reversal of the Board's decision to dismiss defendant Raymond Spangler, a tenured teacher, based on his failure to achieve a satisfactory rating after a one-year remediation plan conducted pursuant to section 24A-5(f) of the School Code (Code) (105 ILCS 5-24A-5(f) (West 1998)). On appeal, the Board contends that the hearing officer's decision was contrary to law and against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
Raymond Spangler was employed as a tenured fifth grade teacher by the Board at Link Elementary School in Elk Grove Village, a part of the Schaumburg School District. Spangler had been evaluated on his performance over the years and had received satisfactory ratings. On October 2, 1996, Dr. Bruce Brown, the principal of Link Elementary, wrote a letter to Spangler with respect to five visits Brown had made to Spangler's classroom during the month of September. Brown noted a consistent pattern of interaction with the class that needed immediate attention. He also criticized Spangler's lesson organization, instructional planning, classroom management, instruction method, and advised Spangler that he needed to address the individual needs of students and provide them with feedback. Spangler was advised that if he failed to show improvement, it might result in an unsatisfactory rating.
Subsequent to this letter, Brown completed Spangler's evaluation for the 1996-97 school year. Brown's April 30, 1997, summative evaluation report noted that he had observed Spangler's classroom on 10 occasions over the course of the preceding year, 2 of them prearranged. Brown stated that the following areas of Spangler's performance needed improvement: instruction method, lesson planning and organization, concept of lesson directions, and pacing. Brown rated defendant unsatisfactory.
Because of the unsatisfactory rating, a remediation plan was adopted to cover the period from June 1, 1997, to May 1, 1998. The plan cited 11 areas of weakness in Spangler's performance, which he was required to improve: failure to present instruction that corresponded to presented lesson plans; failure to communicate instructional goals and objectives to the students during instruction; failure to structure lessons and include opening and closing comments; failure to assign homework; failure to provide adequate feedback to the students with respect to their work; failure to deviate from "whole class, teacher-led" instruction model; failure to stress active participation by all students during instruction; failure to show little modification in lessons or assignments to meet the individual needs of students; failure to identify inattentive students and develop an engagement strategy; failure to appropriately pace lessons, some being over 90 minutes long; and failure to adequately display current student work. It concluded with a statement that Spangler's overall performance had been rated unsatisfactory.
During the remediation period, Spangler was observed and evaluated by Dr. Brown and Marianne Zito, the assistant superintendent for instruction. During the first quarter, Brown observed Spangler on nine occasions, one being prearranged. In his summative evaluation report dated October 17, 1997, after detailing his observation results, Brown noted that the pattern of concerns in the remediation plan remained largely unaddressed by Spangler. Accordingly, Brown gave Spangler an unsatisfactory rating on his current progress. During the second quarter, Brown observed Spangler eight times, one being prearranged. In his summative evaluation report dated January 30, 1998, Brown again stated that the patterns of concern of the remediation plan were unaddressed and rated Spangler's performance unsatisfactory. During the third quarter, Brown observed Spangler six times, one prearranged. Brown's conclusion in his summative evaluation report dated March 23, 1998, was the same. During the last quarter, Spangler was observed six times by Brown and at least twice by Zito. Brown's conclusion in his summative evaluation report dated May 27, 1998, was the same.
Because Brown rated Spangler unsatisfactory and, therefore, Spangler failed to complete the remediation plan with a satisfactory or better rating, the Board passed a resolution on June 18, 1998, to dismiss Spangler. It adopted a notice of charges as the reason for the dismissal, setting forth the following 17 charges:
"(1) Your in-class instruction frequently fails to correspond to teacher lesson plans; (2) You fail to communicate learning objectives and goals to the students during instruction; (3) You fail to properly structure the lesson by including opening and closing activities; (4) You have unaccounted time periods in your lesson plans; (5) You have left the classroom for unannounced activities, and you have left your students unsupervised during these times; (6) You fail to properly pace and limit your lessons on individual subjects to an appropriate length of time for fifth grade students; (7) You fail to use a variety of teaching methods; (8) You fail to modify your instruction to meet the individual needs of the students; (9) You fail to redirect the attention of inattentive students to the learning task; (10) You fail to properly grade your students; (11) You fail to convey accurate information to students; (12) You allow students to work outside the classroom on an unsupervised basis; (13) You fail to provide support or feedback to educationally needy students; (14) You fail to provide enrichment activities for high-achieving students; (15) You have used inappropriate physical contact with students; (16) You are often insubordinate, and you fail to act in a professional manner toward the administration, staff, and parents; (17) In the opinion of the Board of Education, you are not qualified to teach and your dismissal is in the best interests of the District.
The Board also attached to the resolution a bill of particulars in support of the charges.
Subsequently, Spangler requested an administrative hearing pursuant to section 24-12 of the Code (105 ILCS 5/24-12 (West 1998)). This hearing commenced on December 1, 1998, and concluded in March 1999. Both parties presented evidence and testimony in their favor, more fully discussed below. Following the hearing, the hearing officer, in a lengthy decision issued September 21, 1999, reversed the Board's dismissal of Spangler. After detailing the evidence presented by both parties, the hearing officer rendered the following conclusions on each charge: (1) Failure to follow lesson plans--"Based on the evidence in the record Mr. Spangler's deviations are not a serious fault"; (2) Failure to communicate learning objectives and goals to students--"Although Mr. Spangler may be deficient on this point, it hardly appears to be so serious as to warrant an unsatisfactory rating"; (3) Failure to structure lessons by doing opening and closing activities--"This charge is closely related to the one preceding it. In both charges Mr. Spangler is at fault but not as great as the charges would have us believe"; (4) Unaccounted periods in lesson plans--"Dr. Brown had good reason to fault Mr. Spangler on this charge"; (5) Leaving classroom with students unsupervised--"This is certainly a minor incident, Mr. Spangler's explanation makes sense"; (6) Failure to pace lessons and limit them to appropriate length--"Mr Spangler evidently realizes that his lessons are sometimes too long, maintaining that he improved as time went on, so this is a legitimate complaint"; (7) Failure to use a variety of teaching methods--"He deserves to be censured on this charge"; (8) Failure to meet the needs of individual students--"There is a mixed bag on this charge. Mr. Spangler did meet individual needs in some instances, but failed in others. The charge is only partly proven"; (9) Failure to redirect inattentive students to learning task--"Fifth grade students can indeed be expected to be inattentive some of the time. We do not know whether these fifth graders goofed off more than others. Some of Mr. Spangler's explanations may be suspect, such as saying students moved about to discard used tissue, but it is hard to fault the teacher for lack of attention, although some blame must rest with this teacher"; (10) Improper grading--"There is some basis to this charge, although all of it is not proven"; (11) Failure to convey accurate information to students--"Based on Dr. Brown's statements, this charge is sustained"; (12) Students working outside classroom unsupervised--"No preponderance of the evidence exists on most of this charge, although the purpose of the reading race is never explained"; (13) Failure to provide support to educationally needy students--"This charge is partially supported"; (14) Failure to provide enrichment activities for high-achieving students--"This charge is sustained"; (15) Inappropriate physical contact with students--"Evidence supporting Dr. Brown is convincing and backs the charges. There is only this one incident, however, which is serious enough, but Mr. Spangler is not accused of inappropriate contact with students regularly"; (16) Insubordination and failure to act professionally towards administration, staff and parents--"Insubordination is not directly related to Mr. Spangler's teaching; (17) Not qualified to teach--"[T]his is a mixed bag." His letters do exhibit sarcasm and hostility, but these too do not squarely bear on his ability as a teacher." Based on all the evidence presented, the hearing officer concluded that the Board failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Spangler deserved an unsatisfactory rating during the remediation year, nor should he have been dismissed.
Thereafter, the Board filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court. The trial court subsequently confirmed the hearing ...