Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 01-MR-115. Honorable Stephen R. Rice, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn
In this case, we are asked to determine where approximately 65 young students who live in Fairmont City, Illinois, will be publically schooled.
Collinsville Community Unit School District No. 10 (Collinsville Unit 10) and East St. Louis School District No. 189 (East St. Louis No. 189) both appeal from the trial court's September 12, 2002, order affirming the earlier order of the Regional Board of School Trustees of St. Clair County, Illinois (Board). The Board had allowed a petition to detach a section of Fairmont City from East St. Louis No. 189 and to allow that section's annexation into Collinsville Unit 10. The defendant parents of the annexed section of Fairmont City cross-appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in refusing to grant their motion to dismiss the school districts' complaints.
The case began with a petition circulated by residents of Fairmont City. Fairmont City is a divided city for purposes of school district ties. Prior to this case, 60% of Fairmont City children were a part of and attended the schools of Collinsville Unit 10. The remaining 40% of the children were part of and attended the schools of East St. Louis No. 189. In August 2000, residents of the East St. Louis No. 189 portion of Fairmont City began an organized campaign to obtain the signatures of at least two-thirds of the registered voters living within that area. Those signatures were notarized and attached to a document labeled "Petition for Detachment and Annexation."
The petition stated that the geographic area in question fell entirely within East St. Louis No. 189 and that the resident petitioners sought to have its geographic area detached from East St. Louis No. 189 and annexed into Collinsville Unit 10. The petitioners noted that there were no school buildings within the geographic area in question. By inference, the petitioners indicated that they had signatures of two-thirds of the area's registered voters seeking the detachment and annexation. They contended that the actions sought were in the "best interest and educational welfare of students" residing in the area and that the petitioners desired an implementation of "Whole Child" and "Community of Interest" educational concepts. The petitioners further stated that they believed that the two districts had no objections to the plan. Collinsville Unit 10 was alleged to be coterminous and contiguous. Finally, the petitioners stated as follows:
"Pupils residing in Petitioning Area would benefit greatly by participation in extracurricular and social activities in their local City, Community[,] and schools. Such activity is an essential part of their educational welfare[,] as is camaraderie with other students residing in their local community."
Notice of a hearing on this petition was published in a local newspaper. The hearing was initially set for December 11, 2000, but was rescheduled for January 8, 2001, at the continuance request of Collinsville Unit 10.
The hearing was held on January 8, 2001. All the members of the Board were present. We will briefly summarize the testimony and evidence adduced at this hearing.
Testimony for the Petitioners
Shirley Kurry, the principal at Holy Rosary School, a parochial school located in Fairmont City, testified. From talking to parents of students transferring from East St. Louis No. 189 to Holy Rosary School, Ms. Kurry is aware of parental concerns regarding education quality and safety. In her experience, Ms. Kurry found that the transferring students were typically behind the Holy Rosary students of the same grade levels.
Several concerned parents testified in the petitioners' case: Donna Pacheco, Julia Martinez, Jose Otero, and Louis Avila. The parents were concerned about the safety and welfare of their children and about the quality of the education in East St. Louis No. 189. Those parents who had lived in the area for their entire lives all attended Holy Rosary School. One parent moved in with a friend across town in order to be able to attend Collinsville High School. Only one parent had firsthand knowledge of safety problems in East St. Louis No. 189, in that his daughter had been attacked. For her safety, she has now moved in with her grandparents, who reside in a neighboring town in a different school system. Another concern expressed by the parents was the lack of extracurricular activities at the elementary level in East St. Louis No. 189.
Testimony for East St. Louis No. 189
Guillermo Macia was called on behalf of East St. Louis No. 189. He was the new Illinois certified bilingual teacher at Manners School beginning in November 2000. On a regular basis, he works with somewhere between 32 and 39 students at Manners School. His job is to teach Hispanic children to speak English. Throughout each day, he meets with smaller groups of the Hispanic students for at least 40 minutes per session. Mr. Macia testified that he had not observed any safety issues particularly affecting the Fairmont City children.
Lin Val Thomas next testified on behalf of East St. Louis No. 189. At the time of his testimony, he was the bilingual aide at Manners School, having been hired in September or October 2000. He works with the same students that Mr. Macia does. He testified about the wonderful working and nurturing relationship they have maintained with these children.
Francine Collins testified that she is an English-as-a-second-language teacher for East St. Louis No. 189 and that she had been so employed since the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year. Previously, she had been the bilingual teacher at Manners School. She does not speak Spanish. Her job is also to teach the Hispanic children to speak English and also to work with the classroom teachers on how to teach these children.
Manners School principal Kelly Thrash, Jr., testified that the 2000-2001 school year was his third year in the position and his thirty-first year with East St. Louis No. 189. As of the date of his testimony, there were 61 Spanish-speaking students at Manners School, of which 53 were from Fairmont City and 8 were from Washington Park. These Fairmont City students are bussed to the school. Because of his belief that the number of Hispanic students will increase in the coming years, Mr. Thrash testified that East St. Louis No. 189 had plans within the next two or three years for a new school building to accommodate the increased population. He testified that there is a high turnover in these students-while they may attend Manners School, by the time they should graduate to junior or senior high, they have transferred out of East St. Louis No. 189. In extracurricular activities, Manners School has a basketball team and is working on getting a teacher to coach soccer but has no band instruction for its students. While he would not describe the St. Clair County Regional Office of Education's 1998 request as being a "mandate," Mr. Thrash noted that the office did tell him that Manners School needed an English-as-a-second-language teacher.
Dr. Nathaniel Anderson is the superintendent of East St. Louis No. 189. He testified that his district had made great strides in getting several of the elementary schools off the Illinois academic watch list. Dr. Anderson indicated that there has been a great deal of instability with the Manners School administration with respect to turnover. Financially, East St. Louis No. 189 is very stable, but it operates under a State of Illinois financial oversight panel. Dr. Anderson believes that it is important for the ...