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Goral v. Illinois State Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

December 18, 2013

BRADLEY GORAL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF NEW TRIER TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 203, and LAWRENCE COHEN, Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 CH 26508, 12 CH 30283 Honorable Mary L. Mikva, Judge Presiding.

Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

MASON, JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiff-appellant, Bradley Goral, appeals from an order of the circuit court affirming a decision by defendant-appellee Board of Education of New Trier Township School District 203 (Board) terminating his employment as a teacher at New Trier Township High School District 203 (District). Goral contends that in connection with a fitness-for-duty examination, the District violated the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (740 ILCS 110/1 et seq. (West 2010)) (Act). Goral further argues that the hearing officer violated the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/24-2 (West 2010)) (Code), by failing to timely schedule his dismissal hearing and raising a new charge against him during the administrative hearing and that, in any event, the hearing officer's determination on the new charge is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 In this appeal, Goral does not challenge the Board's conduct in issuing him a notice to remedy (based on conduct further described below) or requiring him to attend a psychiatric fitness-for-duty exam. It is also undisputed that Goral failed to (1) attend the exam and (2) notify the District that he would not attend, thus causing the District to incur a $1, 000 cancellation fee. Goral contends that the Board's violation of the Act warranted his refusal to comply with its directives.

¶ 3 The parties provide an extensive recitation of the facts leading up to Goral's termination. We recite only so much of the facts as is necessary to provide a framework for discussion of the issues raised in this appeal.

¶ 4 Goral was hired as a chemistry teacher in the District in 1983. In April 2011 an administrator received a complaint from a parent about difficulty a student was having with Goral responding to the student's questions in class. After the science department chair sent Goral a memo summarizing the parent's concerns and asking for Goral's input, Goral initially responded that the complaint was "gibberish and nonsense" and that the parent's comments (which were, at the request of the parent and student, anonymous) were "libelous" and "criminal." Goral demanded an apology from the department chair and that the District pursue criminal charges against the parent. Goral later demanded the identity of the student and parent indicating that he wanted to file a lawsuit.

¶ 5 Over the next several months, the tenor of Goral's communications and interactions with District administrative personnel escalated. Goral filed a grievance against the District's assistant superintendent and his department chair accusing them of harassing him and of engaging in "patently criminal" conduct. The Board ultimately rejected Goral's appeal from an adverse determination on his grievance.

¶ 6 While his grievance was pending, Goral refused to cooperate with directives from Linda Yonke, the District superintendent, to schedule observations of his classroom and pre- and post-observation conferences. Again, the tenor of Goral's communications–reflected in email exchanges–was accusatory and, increasingly, threatening.

¶ 7 Ultimately, on June 24, 2011, after Goral refused to meet with her regarding the ongoing dispute (instead responding in an email with the subject line, "Commands of June, " that his only obligation was to rebuke Yonke, who believed her directives were the "commands of God"), Yonke suspended Goral for five days without pay and informed Goral that she was recommending that the Board issue Goral a notice to remedy. Yonke warned Goral that his violation of the directives in the notice to remedy "could result in further disciplinary action, including termination." Goral responded in an email in which he referred to Yonke as a "broken record" and asserted that he was not required to submit to her authority. In the course of appealing his suspension, Goral advised Yonke and the Board that he had contacted the FBI and that Yonke had "grossly underestimated" how angry he was.

¶ 8 On July 8, 2011, Yonke sent Goral a memo regarding her recommendation that the Board issue him a notice to remedy. Yonke informed Goral that based on his conduct since receiving the parent's complaint, including his angry and irrational responses, she questioned his fitness for duty as a teacher. The memo identified the following four directives incorporated in the notice to remedy:

"1. You are to interact with your colleagues in a collaborative, professional, respectful and courteous manner. Your colleagues include, but are not limited to, the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, the Director of Human Resources and your Department Chair.
2.You are to follow the work-related directives of your supervisors promptly and in a collaborative, professional, respectful and courteous manner. Your supervisors include, but are not limited to, the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, The Director of Human Resources and your Department Chair. This directive includes, but is not limited to, engagement in all designated components of the teacher evaluation process.
3.You are to be examined by a health professional designated by the Superintendent to evaluate and report to the Board and to the Superintendent regarding your fitness to perform your duties as a teacher in this School District. You are to cooperate fully with the health professional, including, but not limited to, the signing of any necessary releases, so as to ...

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