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Ball v. Board of Education of City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

July 30, 2013

VERA BALL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO; MARY RICHARDSON LOWRY, President; NORMAN BOBINS, TARIQ BUTT, PEGGY DAVIS, ROXANNE WARD, CLARE MUNANA and ALBERTO A. CARRERA, JR., Members; RON HUBERMAN, Chief Executive Officer; ELLEN ALEXANDER, Hearing Officer; and ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. 11 CH 1021 The Honorable Peter Flynn, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE SIMON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Quinn and Connors concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

SIMON JUSTICE

¶ 1 This appeal is before this court following an administrative review proceeding concerning the December 15, 2010, decision of defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board) terminating plaintiff Vera Ball's employment with the Board as a tenured teacher assigned to Paul Revere Elementary School (Revere). Following an administrative hearing, the Board accepted in part and rejected in part the hearing officer's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation to reinstate Ball with a warning resolution. Ball sought administrative review in the circuit court of Cook County and on December 1, 2011, the trial court affirmed the Board's finding. This appeal followed.

¶ 2 Ball asserts on appeal that the Board erred in finding that she was negligent in breaching her duty to supervise her seventh- and eighth-grade students on May 26, 2009, when they engaged in sexual activity in the school. Ball also contends that the Board failed to prove that she caused any physical or psychological injury to the students. Finally, Ball asserts that the Board's decision to terminate her employment was arbitrary and capricious. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the Board.

¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On September 9, 2009, pursuant to section 34-85 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 2010)), Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman approved charges against plaintiff alleging conduct unbecoming a CPS employee and requested she be suspended, without pay, pending a dismissal hearing. The charges levied against plaintiff all related to events that took place at Revere on May 26, 2009, and the subsequent investigation of those events. Plaintiff was alleged to have violated numerous provisions of the CPS' employee discipline and due process policy for negligently and intentionally failing to supervise her students and making false statements to investigators. A hearing officer was selected and a dismissal hearing was held, with two days of testimony in January 2010.

¶ 5 Ball had been a special education instructor for CPS since 1997 working with students with behavioral problems and learning disabilities at Revere and had no significant prior disciplinary history. Revere is a prekindergarten through eighth-grade elementary school located in the Grand Crossing neighborhood at 1010 East 72nd Street, Chicago, Illinois. The neighborhood was described as a high violence area with a high incidence of single-parent households, domestic violence, and drug and gang activity.

¶ 6 Approximately 400 students are enrolled at Revere, where 2 buildings comprise the closed campus and house 15 classrooms for the students. The school day at Revere runs from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. with after-school activities after that. Because of the high gang activity in the area, students are required to wear uniforms to school. In addition, under the school policy, students are to be supervised at all times by teachers, including when in the hallways and on bathroom breaks. One security guard patrols both buildings, but security cameras are positioned throughout the school buildings and campus.

¶ 7 Veronica Thompson, principal for Revere, initiated a policy at the school when she started in 2005 called the "Three P's, " which stands for permission, pass and partner. She testified that this stood for the requirement that any student not in a classroom and without a teacher had to have the teacher's permission, a pass, and a partner. At the beginning of the school year Thompson informed the teachers of their supervision responsibilities and reinforced that policy regularly in her weekly e-mail bulletins to staff. Thompson indicated in her bulletin that students should never be left unsupervised, particularly when in the halls and bathrooms. Teachers were required to escort their students to their "specials, " noncore classes, and to and from the lunchroom. Teachers did not have a set lunch period but were granted two 10-minute breaks during the day. Ball took both her breaks during her students' lunch break from 10:54 to 11:16 a.m.

¶ 8 Ball's class during the 2008-09 school year met in Room 300 on the third floor and consisted of nine students of various abilities from fifth to eighth grade, including T.T., J.W., T.M. and L.A. K.B. was a 12 year-old female student in Ebonee Greene's classroom. Because of their disabilities and behavioral history, each of these students required greater supervision and Ball had a special education assistant, Willimer Hill, for her classroom. Hill's son was formerly a special education student at Revere and she volunteered there from 1997 to 2003 when she became a teacher's aide. In 2009, Hill's duties were to assist Ball by helping students with reading and math and by escorting students to other classrooms or the lunchroom during the school day.

¶ 9 On Sunday May 24, 2009, Thompson sent an e-mail to Ball and other teachers with the subject line reading "Urgent Summer School PD registration by 5/26." Thompson wrote "Please register for summer school PD [professional development] asap. If you don't attend both sessions, you will not be allowed to teach. Initial trainings are 6/2, 6/3 and 6/4. Follow-up sessions are 6/29 and 7/1." Thompson provided a website for registration as well as a telephone number for questions.

¶ 10 On Tuesday May 26, 2009, the school day began as normal. Ball testified that at approximately 10:54 a.m., she and Hill walked downstairs to the second floor with their students. Ball stated that she went into the disciplinarian office in Room 200 at approximately 10:55 a.m. and Hill escorted the students to the lunchroom. While T.T. testified that Ball watched from the third-floor stairwell as the students went to the first-floor lunchroom, the video surveillance shows the students leave Room 300 unescorted at 10:52 a.m., Hill and Ball leave Room 300 at 10:53 and the students reach the first floor seconds later, and then at 10:54 it shows Ball enter Room 200 and Hill continue to the first floor to escort the students to the lunchroom.

ΒΆ 11 Room 200 was where a phone was located that teachers could utilize if they needed to make calls during the school day. Ball attempted to register for her professional development courses at this time. Hill returned to Room 200 during the lunch break, then went back to the lunchroom. At 11:17 a.m., Hill brought the students to Room 200. The students remained with Ball and Hill in Room 200 for the next 30 minutes doing nothing while Ball continued to attempt to register for her classes. Ball ...


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