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Prato v. Vallas

May 31, 2002

MARIA PRATO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PAUL VALLAS, CHICAGO SCHOOL REFORM BOARD OF TRUSTEES, ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, AND JULIUS MENACKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE DOROTHY K. KINNAIRD, JUDGE PRESIDING.

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

UNPUBLISHED

This is an appeal from the dismissal of a complaint for administrative review by the circuit court of Cook County. Defendants, Paul Vallas (Vallas), then the chief executive officer (CEO) of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees (the School Board or Board), brought charges for dismissal against plaintiff, Dr. Maria Prato, alleging violations of her employment contract as principal of the Clay Elementary School (Clay). Following an administrative hearing, plaintiff was discharged from her position. The circuit court dismissed plaintiff's subsequent complaint for administrative review against the above-named defendants in addition to other defendants, the Illinois State Board of Education (State Board) and hearing officer, Julius Menacker. Defendants Vallas and the Board filed a separate brief from defendants the State Board and Menacker.

On appeal, plaintiff contends that: (1) the School Board lacked jurisdiction to terminate plaintiff from her employment contract for failure to issue a statutorily required formal warning; (2) plaintiff's 1998-2002 performance contract rights were improperly terminated by discharge proceedings involving conduct occurring during a prior performance contract; and (3) the statute under which plaintiff was terminated is unconstitutional. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

BACKGROUND

I. CHRONOLOGY

The following chronology outlines the events relevant to plaintiff's appeal:

JUNE 22, 1998: Chicago Public Schools and Vallas (The Board) bring charges against Prato.

JUNE 23, 1998: Prato requests a hearing under 34-85 of the Illinois School Code

JULY 15, 1998: Pre-suspension hearing.

JULY 27, 1998: Prato suspended without pay.

NOVEMBER 1998: Hearing begins.

MAY 12, 1999: Hearing officer recommends upholding Board's dismissal of Prato.

JUNE 17, 1999: Prato files complaint for administrative review in circuit court.

JUNE 23, 1999: School Board formally adopts recommendations of hearing officer.

JUNE 24, 1999: Vallas informs Prato that Board accepts hearing officer's recommendation and discharges Prato.

AUGUST 17, 1999: Prato files seven-count amended complaint in circuit court.

SEPTEMBER 2, 1999: Circuit court dismisses count I.

NOVEMBER 22, 1999: Circuit court has hearing on remaining counts and dismisses counts III, IV, VI and VII with prejudice, and allows Prato to replead count V, the due process claim.

DECEMBER 16, 1999: Prato files notice of appeal in the circuit court (No. 1-99-4489).

DECEMBER 17, 1999: Prato files second amended complaint which is identical to 1st amended complaint.

JUNE 2000: Appellate court dismisses 1-99-4489 for want of prosecution.

FEBRUARY 7, 2001: Following hearing, circuit court finds in favor of Board on count II, determines that Board's decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

FEBRUARY 20, 2001: Circuit court determines that Prato did not file an amended complaint per order of November 22, 1999, and dismisses count V with prejudice.

MARCH 9, 2001: Prato files notice of appeal of the orders entered on February 7, 2001, and February 20, 2001, pertaining to count II.

II. FACTS

The record reveals the following relevant facts. On June 22, 1998, the Chicago Public Schools, through its CEO, Vallas, and the Board, brought charges against plaintiff, Dr. Maria Prato, seeking her discharge from her position as principal of the Clay Elementary School. Plaintiff was charged with: (1) conduct unbecoming a principal; (2) gross dereliction of duties; (3) violation of her uniform performance contract; (4) improper recruitment activities for the Options for Knowledge program; (5) violations of student confidentially; (6) retaliation in violation of the Whistle Blower Protection section of the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-2/4c. (West 1998)); (7) insubordination; (8) disregard of practice and procedure; (9) refusing to enroll students; and (10) conduct causing harm to the students of Clay Elementary School.

The Board arranged for a hearing officer to hold a hearing to determine if plaintiff should be suspended without pay pending a hearing on the changes. A presuspension hearing was conducted on July 15, 1998, and plaintiff was represented by counsel. On July 24, 1998, the hearing officer recommended plaintiff's suspension without pay. On July 27, Vallas notified plaintiff that she was suspended without pay effective immediately.

In accordance with section 34-85 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 1998)), the State Board sent resumes of five prospective impartial hearing officers to both the Board and to plaintiff. A process of elimination resulted ...


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