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James v. Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

February 6, 2015

RON JAMES, Petitioner,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DAVID VITALE, President of the Board, BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, Chief Executive Officer of the Board, JESSE RUIZ, HENRY BIENEN, MAHILIA HINES, PENNY PRITZKER, RODSIERRA, and ANDREA ZOPP, as Members of the Board, ANNE WEILAND, Hearing Officer, and THE ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Respondents

Page 202

On Petition for Review from Final Administrative Decision of the Chicago Board of Education. Board Resolution No. 14-0423-RS3.

SYLLABUS

The final administrative decision of the Chicago Board of Education resulting in the termination of petitioner's employment as a tenured high school teacher and coach was confirmed based on his conduct in pretending to throw a stapler at a disruptive student, who entered petitioner's classroom cursing, but the stapler's cover came off and flew across the room and struck the head of another student and caused injuries requiring medical attention, notwithstanding the hearing office's suggestion of discipline short of discharge in view of the fact that petitioner had no disciplinary record, was trusted and respected, and the harm was purely accidental, since the Board concluded that petitioner's conduct harmed a student, supported a finding of negligence, was grounds for discharge without a chance for remediation, and did not require a written warning under the School Code, and finally, the Board's decision to dismiss petitioner without a written warning was not clearly erroneous under the facts of the case.

FOR Petitioner-Appellant: Kurtis Hale, Poltrock & Poltrock, Chicago, IL.

FOR Respondent-Appellees: James L. Bebley, General Counsel, Lee Ann Lowder, Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Law Department, Chicago, IL.

PRESIDING JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Lampkin concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Hall dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

Page 203

HOFFMAN, J.

[¶1] The petitioner, Ron James, appeals from a final administrative decision of the Chicago Board of Education (the Board) which resulted in the termination of his employment as a tenured teacher at the Hyde Park Career Academy High School. For the reasons that follow, we confirm the decision of the Board.

[¶2] On January 10, 2013, the petitioner pretended to throw a stapler at a disruptive student. The stapler detached from its cover, flew across the classroom, and struck another student's head, requiring minor medical attention. As a result of the incident, the Board filed dismissal charges against the petitioner, alleging that he violated several terms of his employment, including refraining from negligent and incompetent conduct and avoiding physical contact with students.

[¶3] On November 5, 2013, an administrative hearing before the Illinois State Board of Education was conducted at which the petitioner testified that he had been employed as a teacher with CPS since 2005, currently teaching social studies and coaching the softball and football teams. He testified that he is a former football and baseball player himself. The petitioner had no history of any disciplinary actions against him.

[¶4] Regarding the January 10, 2013, incident, the petitioner stated that a disruptive student entered his classroom at the end of his sixth period class. The student was using vulgar language, demanding that another student retrieve a paper from his locker. The petitioner testified that he told the disruptive student to " stop cursing in my classroom" and " to get out" of the classroom. The student refused and continued cursing at which time the petitioner stated " don't make me bust your head with this stapler." The petitioner testified that he was " being playful" in order to get the disruptive student to behave. The petitioner then stood up and picked up the stapler which was on his desk.

[¶5] The petitioner identified a similar stapler as the one he had on January 10, 2013. The top part had a plastic covering, and the bottom part of the stapler was metal. He testified that, when he " reached up as if" he was going to throw the stapler, " the stapler slid out of the [plastic] sleeve" and hit another student, V.H., in the back of her head. He estimated that V.H. was standing about seven to ten feet away from him at the time. The petitioner immediately went to check on V.H., but she stated that she was not hurt.

[¶6] On cross-examination, the petitioner denied that he intended to throw the stapler at the disruptive student. He admitted that a CPS investigator observed that the stapler had traveled a " pretty far distance" and that he responded by stating that he is " a pretty strong guy. I mean, the torque that I put on there with faking like I was throwing it was enough torque that it happened this way." He also admitted that his method, " playful or not," is not the " appropriate method as a teacher to modify a disruptive student's behavior."

[¶7] D.H., one of the petitioner's students who witnessed the incident, testified that the petitioner told a disruptive student to leave his classroom, and the student did not want to leave so the petitioner tried to scare him. According to D.H., " the stapler managed to come out of his hand and get thrown but it was ...


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