Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit Will County, Illinois No. 00-MR-562 Honorable Herman S. Haase Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Lytton
Plaintiff, Board of Education of Joliet ("Board") dismissed defendant Sandra Betts, a tenured teacher, for misuse of sick leave. Betts requested an administrative hearing, and the hearing officer reinstated her. The trial court affirmed the hearing officer, and we affirm the trial court.
The contractual agreement between the Joliet school district and its teachers provides for several forms of leave for teachers, including professional, personal, and sick leave. It also describes the proper uses of each type of leave. Attendance at a professional conference is not a proper use of sick leave under the contract. The contractual agreement does not state the consequences of misuse of leave; however, it does state that absences not covered by any form of leave will result in a deduction from a teacher's paycheck.
Betts was a teacher in the Joliet school district. In 1997, she requested four professional leave days to attend a professional conference. Betts learned on the day before she was scheduled to leave for the conference that the administration had lost her request for leave; as a result, the request had not been approved. Because she had already made arrangements for her attendance, Betts took personal leave days for the first two days of the conference. She told her supervisor that she would return to school and miss the last two days of the conference. However, she did not return as promised. Instead, she had her husband call the school and report her ill so she could use sick leave days for the end of the conference.
Betts later discussed her attendance of the conference with her superiors, and requested conversion of the two "personal leave" absences to "professional leave" absences. Administrators granted her request and made no mention of any consequences for her use of sick leave to attend the conference.
The next year, Betts wished to attend the same annual professional conference. She chose not to seek professional leave for that conference. Instead, she took sick leave days for the days of the conference, telling her department head that her sister was ill and needed her attention.
Through an internal investigation, the school administration found that Betts used sick leave to attend the 1998 conference. The administration reported its findings to the Board, and the Board dismissed her.
Betts requested a hearing, and the hearing officer determined that her conduct was remediable. He held that she could not be dismissed without first receiving a written warning.
The Board sought administrative review of the hearing officer's decision in the circuit court, which then affirmed the hearing officer. The Board appeals, asserting that: (1) the hearing officer improperly applied the legal test of irremediability; (2) the hearing officer's findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence; (3) Betts already received a sufficient warning; and (4) allowing Betts to return to her teaching position violates public policy.
The Board claims that Betts' actions constitute shocking and immoral conduct. Therefore, her conduct should be considered irremediable, even if a warning could have altered it. We disagree.
Section 24-12 of the School Code of 1961 provides that before teachers may be dismissed for remediable conduct, they must receive a written warning to cease that conduct. 105 ILCS 5/24-12 (West 1998). However, a teacher may be immediately dismissed for irremediable deficiencies or actions. 105 ILCS 5/24A-5 (West 1998). Conduct is irremediable if it (1) causes damage to the students, faculty or school and (2) could not have been corrected if the teacher's superiors had warned her. Gilliland v. Board of Education of Pleasant View Consolidated School District, 67 Ill. 2d 143, 153 (1977).
The second prong of the test is not applicable if the conduct in question is "immoral conduct" that "has no legitimate basis in school policy or society." Board of Education of Sparta Community Unit School District v. Illinois State Board of Education, 217 Ill. App. 3d 720, 729 (1991). Shocking ...