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Brandt v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

March 13, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge.


The parents of minor Plaintiffs Michael Brandt, Rebecca Darugar, and Aldo Van Enck filed the present Amended Class Action Complaint on behalf of their children and all others similarly situated against Defendants Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Chris Kotis, Janice Rosales, Christine Laughlin, and Mary Clancy. In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their First Amendment right to free speech. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before the Court are the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Partial Motion for Summary Judgment and grants Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment.


I. Northern District of Illinois Local Rules

When determining summary judgment motions, the Court derives the background facts from the parties' Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 statements. The Local Rules provide parties with specific details as to how litigants in the Northern District of Illinois should approach summary judgment motions and responses. Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires the moving party to provide "a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue." Local Rule 56.1(b)(3) requires the nonmoving party to admit or deny every factual statement proffered by the moving party and to concisely designate any material facts that establish a genuine dispute for trial. The parties' statements must contain short numbered paragraphs including references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials. Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004); Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 583-85 (N.D. Ill. 2000).

It is not appropriate to set forth additional facts in a Rule 56.1(b)(3) response statement, instead, the parties must include any additional facts in a separate Rule 56.1 statement. See Ammons, 368 F.3d at 817. Responses that are not contested are deemed admitted. Brengettcy v. Horton, 423 F.3d 674, 681 (7th Cir. 2005); Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003). Statements and responses that do not properly cite to the record are subject to the Court's discretion as to their admissibility. See Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997). The Court also reminds the parties that when citing to the record in their legal memoranda, they are required to cite to the numbered paragraphs of the Local Rule 56.1 Statements and not to the underlying record. See Malec, 191 F.R.D. at 586. With these principles in mind, the Court turns to the relevant facts of this case.*fn1

II. Relevant Facts

A. Parties

Plaintiffs are a certified class of 24 of the 27 students who were in the eighth grade class in the Regional Gifted Center Program at Jean Baptiste Beaubien Elementary School ("Beaubien School") in Chicago, Illinois, during the 2002-03 school year. (R. 134-1, Pls.' Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1; R. 140-1, Defs.' Joint Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2.)

Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("Board") is a body politic and corporate in charge of overseeing the management and operations of a system of free schools known as the Chicago Public Schools. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 2.) Defendant Chris Kotis is the Principal of Beaubien Elementary School and was the Principal during the relevant time period. (Id. ¶ 3; Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 3.) The Board of Education has adopted a rule that specifically authorizes principals to exercise control over the school in all areas authorized by Illinois statute. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 9.) The Uniform Discipline Code ("UDC"), a series of rules and regulations that categorize different types of rule infractions and prescribe a range of consequences for each type of infraction, further defines Principal Kotis' role. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 10.) For example, the UDC requires students to dress in a manner that neither disrupts the educational process nor poses a safety hazard. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 22; R. 160-1, Pls.' Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 30.)

Defendant Mary Clancy was the Gifted Program Coordinator at Beaubien School during the 2002-03 school year. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 6; Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 4.) Defendant Christine Laughlin was the Assistant Principal at Beaubien School during the 2002-03 school year. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 5; Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 5.) Defendant Janice Rosales was the Chicago Public Schools Area Instructional Officer ("AIO") for Region One, Area One, which encompassed Beaubien School during the 2002-03 school year. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 4; Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 6.)

B. The T-Shirt

Beaubien School held an annual contest among the eighth grade students to determine the design for the class T-shirt. (R. 35-1, Am. Compl. ¶ 32.) In the second semester of school year 2002-03, students submitted twenty designs for the Class of 2003 T-shirt election. (Id. ¶ 33; Defs.' Stmt. ¶¶ 55, 57, 59.) The eighth grade students did not choose Plaintiff Michael Brandt's T-shirt design for the official class T-shirt. (Id.) Michael Brandt's T-shirt design contained the image of a boy giving a thumbs-up signal with one hand with the other arm ending in a handless nub from which a leash extended to a dog labeled the school mascot "Beaubien Bulldog." (R. 137-1, Kotis' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2; Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) The boy is wearing a shirt that says, "Beaubien Class of 2003," and pants bearing a grid design. (Id.) After losing the T-shirt election, Plaintiffs added the word "gifties" to the back of the shirt. (Pls.' Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 5.)

C. The Petition

Principal Kotis prohibited the gifted students' T-shirt design as an alternative graduation shirt because a fair vote was conducted and the alternative T-shirt did not win the election. (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. A, C. Kotis Dep., at 56.) Thereafter, the gifted students drafted a petition for the other students to sign concerning their T-shirt. (Am. Compl. ¶ 38c; Defs.' Stmt, Ex. Z, R. Darugar Dep., at 67-70.) The petition indicated that the regular students had no objection to anyone wearing the alternative T-shirt. (Am. Compl. ¶ 38c.) At her deposition, Rebecca Darugar testified that "the purpose of the petition was so that we could have and wear these T-shirts." (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. Z, R. Darugar Dep., at 67.) Rebecca Darugar also testified that they were going to give the petition to the Local School Council to show that they had support for their alternative T-shirt design. (Id. at 68.)

D. Local School Council Meeting

Also after Principal Kotis prohibited the alternative T-shirt design, he met with the gifted class and expressed his concerns about the anger over Michael Brandt's losing design. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 70 & Ex. A, Kotis Dep. at 68.) Kotis then invited the students to address the issue at the Local School Council meeting scheduled for the following week on February 19, 2003. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 70.) Thereafter, Michael Brandt addressed the Local School Council. (R. 166-1, Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 71.) At his deposition, Michael Brandt testified that when he addressed the Local School Council, he stated that his T-shirt design better represented the gifted students because the T-shirt "was made available to the gifted students, people who I had spent combined total of thousands of hours in close contact with. We felt that us having our own shirt better represented us than having a shirt shared with people with who [sic] we hardly knew." (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. M., M. Brandt's Dep. at 116-17.) Michael Brandt also told the Local School Council that the gifted class thought they had won the T-shirt election and felt frustrated that the school did not explain to them how the voting was conducted. (Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 71.) In the end, the Local School Council supported Principal Kotis' decision to prohibit the alternative T-shirts. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 75.)

E. Wearing the T-Shirts to School

Despite the T-shirt's prohibition, the gifted students produced the "gifties" T-shirt and 19 of the gifted students wore the T-shirts to school on April 1, 2003. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 76; Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 14.) Gifted student Nicholas Haak testified that it was "kind of ironic that we were doing it on April Fools' Day as an April Fools' joke." (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. DD, N. Haak Dep., at 70-71.) Principal Kotis did not know that the students were wearing the T-shirts on April 1, 2003 until the Gifted Program Coordinator Mary Clancy informed him. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 80.) Principal Kotis told the gifted students that they were in violation of the Uniform Disciplinary Code for failing to abide by the schools rules or regulations. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 16.) The rule at issue was Beaubien School Dress Code No.2, which states in relevant part: "Clothing with inappropriate words or slogans is not permitted." (Id. ¶ 9.) Thereafter, Kotis told Clancy to contact the students' parents to tell them that the students had violated a school disciplinary code for wearing the "gifties" T-shirts to school. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 71; Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 18.)

F. Tensions Between Gifted and Regular Students

Sometime between April 1 and April 4, 2003, Principal Kotis told Area Instructional Officer Rosales that hostilities existed between the gifted and regular students at Beaubien School. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 93; Pls.' Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 14.) After that, Rosales instructed Kotis to let her know if there were any further problems. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 94.) Rosales testified that Kotis "would be monitoring the behavior of the children and encouraging the children to -- working with the teachers in order to improve the conditions of safety and security of the children, because safety was what I was concerned about." (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 114, Ex B., Rosales Dep. at 46.)

At their depositions, Kotis, Clancy, and Laughlin also testified that tensions existed between the gifted and regular students. (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. R., Kotis Dep. at 9-11; Ex. N, Clancy Dep. at 41, 47, Ex. O, Laughlin Dep. at 12-14.) Kotis testified that there had been at least one physical altercation between a gifted and regular student at Beaubien School. (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. R., Kotis Dep. at 9-11; Ex. A, Kotis Dep. at 83.) In addition, Laughlin testified that there had been incidents after school between gifted and regular students. (Defs.' Stmt., Ex. O, Laughlin Dep. at 12-14.) Moreover, Clancy testified that she thought that the gifted students' design on the T-shirt insulted students with physical deformities. (Pls.' Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 5.)

A number of gifted students wore the T-shirts again on May 12, 2003. (Defs.' Stmt. ΒΆ 99.) Shortly thereafter, a gifted student wrote Rosales a letter about the tension between the gifted and regular students at Beaubien School. ...

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