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James Scott Macdonald v. the State Board of Education and

February 6, 2012

JAMES SCOTT MACDONALD,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION AND
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PAWNEE COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 11,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 10MR351 Honorable Patrick J. Londrigan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Turner and Justice Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, James Scott MacDonald, a tenured teacher employed by Pawnee Community Unit School District No. 11, was dismissed after the Board of Education of Pawnee Community School District (Board) found plaintiff failed to remediate. Plaintiff appeared before an impartial hearing officer who concluded the Board followed the proper procedures for dismissal and cause existed to dismiss plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed to the circuit court of Sangamon County. The circuit court affirmed the hearing officer's decision. This appeal followed.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Plaintiff was a tenured art teacher employed by the Pawnee School District (District). Plaintiff began working for the District in 1994 and received satisfactory teacher evaluation ratings until May 2008. On May 12, 2008, Judy Wilson, the junior high/high school principal, formally evaluated plaintiff. Her evaluation noted problems in instructional management, student management, attendance, and promptness. Wilson rated plaintiff as unsatisfactory and informed him of the results of the evaluation in a postobservation conference held on the last day of the school year, May 27, 2008.

¶ 4 On June 2, 2008, Wilson sent Jeff Seiler, president of the Pawnee Education Association (PEA), a letter informing Seiler plaintiff had been rated unsatisfactory, a remediation plan would be written within 30 days of the unsatisfactory evaluation (June 26, 2008), and the plan would commence at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. Wilson and Lyle Rigdon, the superintendent, were responsible for developing and implementing the plan.

¶ 5 On October 22, 2008, Rigdon sent plaintiff a letter informing him a meeting would be held on October 27, 2008, to discuss the contents of his remediation plan. The letter indicated Rigdon, Wilson, and Amy Howard, a consulting teacher, would be present at the meeting. Plaintiff was unable to attend the meeting due to previously scheduled medical appointments, and the meeting proceeded without him. At a second meeting on October 31, 2008, plaintiff was present and was provided with the remediation plan. Wilson, Rigdon, and Ralph Hennemann, a PEA representative, were also present but Amy Howard was not. Plaintiff contends the plan did not go into effect until November 21, 2008, after Wilson provided him with a revised copy of the plan.

¶ 6 On November 10, 2008, Wilson conducted an evaluation as required by section 24A-5 (105 ILCS 5/24A-5(h) (West 2008)) (requiring "evaluations and ratings once every 30 school days for the 90 school day remediation period"). At this time, plaintiff was rated "Unsatisfactory/Satisfactory (Improving!)." On January 20, 2009, Wilson again evaluated plaintiff and rated him unsatisfactory. On February 23, 2009, Linda Cline, the grade school principal, evaluated plaintiff and rated him unsatisfactory. Finally, on March 16, 2009, Wilson again evaluated plaintiff and rated him unsatisfactory. On April 14, 2009, Wilson prepared a summation evaluation. Wilson found plaintiff did not successfully complete the remediation and found his final rating to be unsatisfactory. On April 22, 2009, the Board voted to dismiss plaintiff based on these findings.

¶ 7 Plaintiff requested a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. See 105 ILCS 5/24-12 (West 2010) (the board shall schedule a hearing before a disinterested hearing officer after receiving a request for such hearing from the dismissed teacher). James Rapp, the hearing officer, held the dismissal proceeding on January 13, 14, 15, 26, and 27, 2010. At the hearing, plaintiff made several challenges to the procedures of the school administrators in developing and carrying out his remediation plan. Plaintiff also alleged the Board lacked cause to dismiss him. The hearing officer found the school administrators complied with procedural requirements, found cause existed to dismiss plaintiff, and upheld the Board's decision to terminate plaintiff's employment.

¶ 8 In June 2011, plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Sangamon County. See 105 ILCS 5/24-16 (West 2010) ("[t]he provisions of the Administrative Review Law *** shall apply to and govern all proceedings instituted for the judicial review of final administrative decisions of a hearing officer under [s]section 24-12"); 735 ILCS 5/3-104 (West 2010) ("[j]urisdiction to review final administrative decisions is vested in the [c]circuit [c]courts"). He alleged procedural errors by the Board and argued the Board failed to prove cause to dismiss him. In a June 2011 docket entry, the trial court upheld the hearing officer's decision. Plaintiff filed a timely appeal of the trial court's final judgment. See Ill. S. Ct. R. 303(a) (eff. June 4, 2008).

¶ 9 II. ANALYSIS

ΒΆ 10 On appeal, plaintiff argues (1) the Board violated section 24A-5(f) of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/24A-5(f) (West 2008)) and the District's evaluation plan by failing to develop and implement the remediation plan within 30 days of the unsatisfactory rating; (2) the Board violated section 24A-5(f) by failing to give plaintiff a 90-day remediation period and failing to perform evaluations every 30 days within that period; (3) the Board violated section 24A-5(h) of the School Code, the administrative regulations, and the District's plan by failing to require a consulting teacher to participate in the remediation; (4) the Board violated section 24A-5(h) of the School Code, the administrative regulations, and the District's plan by failing to offer him assistance; and (5) the hearing officer's decision plaintiff failed to achieve a satisfactory rating at the end of the remediation period was ...


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