The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge
This case is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [#23]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Plaintiff Lisa Schwartzkopf ("Schwartzkopf") was employed by the Defendant, the Board of Education for Sherrard Community Unit School District #200 ("Board" or "School District"), for four school year terms, beginning with the 2000-2001 school year and concluding with the 2003-2004 school year. During the relevant time period, Schwartzkopf was a special education instructor for students in the 5th and 6th grades at Matherville Intermediate School. She served as a resource learning teacher, a primary instructional teacher in Math and English for students in the special education program, and a case manager for a certain portion of the special education students. As a case manager, Schwartzkopf was responsible for maintaining, updating and implementing her assigned students' Individualized Educational Programs ("IEPs") in accordance with the federal Individuals with Disability in Education Act ("IDEA"), ensuring that the School District was in compliance with IDEA and related federal and state statutes.
During her employment with the School District, Schwartzkopf was a "probationary teacher." Under Illinois law, individuals working for a public school district in a full time position requiring certification (as Schwartzkopf was) are employed subject to a four-year probationary period, during which the employment may be terminated by written notice from the Board of Education, given at least forty-five days before the end of the current school year, that their employment will not be renewed. See 105 ILCS 5/24-11. The Notice of Dismissal of a fourth year probationary teach must specify reason(s) for the Board of Education's decision. Id. A teacher employed beyond the fourth probationary year becomes entitled to a contractual continued service or "tenure," with specific seniority and merit-based protections against dismissal, layoff, or removal. Id. at 5/24-12.
At all relevant times, Robert Gillum served as the Superintendent of Schools for the Sherrard School District. Gillum reports directly to the Defendant Board of Education and is the District's chief administrative officer. The Superintendent is assisted by a cabinet of administrators who meet two times a year to review the performance of each probationary teacher in the District. The cabinet includes the Principals for each school building, the District's Director of Curriculum, and the Director of Educational Services. The Director of Educational Services is assisted by a Director of Special Education.
Katherine Bowman served as the Director of Special Education during Schwartzkopf's first academic year of employment with the District, 2000-2001. For the remaining three years of Schwartzkopf's employment, Kim Hoffman was the Director of Special Education. Hoffman also served as the District's school psychologist for the '00-'01 through '04-'05 academic years.
The position of Principal of Matherville Intermediate School was filled by several individuals during the span of Schwartzkopf's employment there. Melissa Clark was the Principal during Schwartzkopf's first year. At some point during the '01-'02 school year, Clark resigned, and Alan Boucher, the District's Director of Curriculum, took over as interim Principal. Charles Driscoll was Principal during the last half of Schwartzkopf's employment -- the '02-'03 and '03-'04 school years. However, at some point during the '03-'04 year, Driscoll resigned at Superintendent Gillum's prompting, with the resignation becoming effective at the end of the '03-'04 school year.
During the '02-'03 school year, Gillum had received an increasing number of complaints regarding operations at Matherville from parents, teachers, and other administrators such as Special Education Director Hoffman. Because of these concerns, Gillum met with Driscoll weekly, beginning in the '03-'04 school year, to review issues at the school and to mentor Driscoll to "recognize and respond appropriately to problems with student discipline, special education compliance, and staff evaluation and discipline." Aff. of R.Gillum, Def.'s Ex., at ¶ 4. In November 2003, after these efforts proved unsuccessful, in Gillum's view, Gillum informed Driscoll that it was unlikely that he would be recommended for continued employment. Driscoll's resignation was not published or generally known until its approval by the Board in April 2004, and Driscoll continued to hold the position as Principal through May 2004. Because he had already resigned, however, his communication with Superintendent Gillum had deteriorated since November 2003.
Around the time of this decline in relations between Gillum and Driscoll, Gillum directed Special Education Director Hoffman to give extra attention to the special education instruction at Matherville and to report any problems to him, as Gillum felt that Driscoll had become ineffectual in addressing those issues. Hoffman, who had previously reported problems regarding Schwartzkopf's performance to Driscoll and the Administrative Cabinet, reported to Gillum a number of issues with Schwartzkopf's performance of her responsibilities as a special education teacher. Hoffman reported the following performance issues: Schwartzkopf regularly arrived late for IEP meetings; she failed to timely schedule the annual IEP meetings to allow for compliance with the IDEA; twenty of the 47 IEPs Schwartzkopf had handled as case manager were untimely; and Schwartzkopf had simply failed to complete the required three-year reviews on two different students. Hoffman also states that in '02-'03 and '03-'04, she received several parental complaints that Schwartzkopf had not followed through with portions of her students' IEPs, even after initial complaints had been made. At other points during Schwarzkopf's employment, Gillum had also received negative comments regarding Schwarzkopf's performance from Alan Boucher (concerns that Schwarzkopf was misusing prep time ), substitute teacher Heather Larkins (poor lessons plans left behind for substitute teacher) and Special Education Director Polly Dahlstrom (general poor performance during first semester of teaching).
During her employment with the District, Schwarzkopf took two maternity leaves. The first was from September - November 2002; the second was from August - September 2003. She exhausted annually in each school year the 13 sick leave days and two personal days available to her, and had additional "dock days" in which her absences were unpaid because she had exhausted her benefit time. In a February 2004 self evaluation, Schwarzkopf acknowledged, "I don't always get things done as soon as I had planned, which ends up pushing everything else back and it just seems to have a dominoe [sic] effect." With respect to the 20 of 47 annual IEP reviews that she failed to timely complete, none were to be done during the periods she was on maternity leave, and her failure to complete them was unrelated to absence on maternity leave. Schwarzkopf alleges that at some point in January 2004, "either for himself or on behalf of the district," Driscoll asked her whether she intended to have more children. Driscoll told her that she would be "doing fine" if she stopped getting pregnant. Pl.'s Resp., at 7.
As was typical procedure, Gillum and the administrative cabinet met twice during the '03-'04 school year to review every probationary teacher. As part of these meetings, Gillum made notes, which he maintained himself on his computer, rather than through any staff. With respect to Schwartzkopf's performance issues, Gillum's notes, made part of the record, reflect the following:
* student regression of skills identified in IEP (goal progression)
* Work ethic (late to meetings, paper work, compliance, etc.) (IEP development, record ...