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Booker v. Board of Education of City Of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

September 29, 2016

M.F. BOOKER, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO; BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, Chief Executive Officer; ANNE WEILAND, Hearing Officer; and THE ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Respondents-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Board of Education of the City of Chicago. No. 15 0325 RS3 Final Administrative Decision

          JUSTICE PUCINSKI delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Fitzgerald Smith concurred in the judgment and opinion. Presiding Justice Mason specially concurred, with opinion.

          OPINION

          PUCINSKI JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Petitioner M.F. Booker 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 Carnegie Elementary School (Carnegie). For the reasons that follow we confirm the Board's decision. [1]

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 I. Dismissal Charges

         ¶ 4 On December 27, 2013, the Board approved five dismissal charges against petitioner. Petitioner was charged with: (1) failure to perform duties; (2) failure to act in the manner of a reasonably prudent educator in the supervision of students; (3) violation of physical integrity, which prohibits physical punishment of students; (4) violation of board resolution No. 04-0728-RS2, which prohibits corporal punishment that results in the deliberate use of physical force with a student; and (5) conduct unbecoming a Chicago public schools (CPS) employee.

         ¶ 5 The dismissal charges were supported by the following eight specifications:

"1. For all relevant time periods of these charges you were a teacher at Andrew Carnegie Elementary School.
2.On or about February 8, 2013, you slapped student, [J.R.], an 11 year old boy, on the back of his head causing redness and the skin to break.
3.On or about February 8, 2013, you slapped student, [C.S.], an 11 year old boy, on the back of his head.
4.On or about September 9, 2013, you grabbed student [F.W.], a 12 year old boy, by his neck, slammed his head against the chalkboard and escorted him by the neck into the bathroom to talk to him.
5. On or about September 18, 2013, you grabbed student [F.W.], around his neck, slammed him against a locker and then walked away.
6.On or about October 29, 2013, you grabbed student [M.F.], a 13 year old boy, by the front of his shirt, pulled him out of his seat and into the hallway, in response to him not having his homework for class.
7. On or about October 29, 2013, you stated to student [M.F.] and/or to the entire class '[d]on't ever tell anybody that you're scared of me or it's going to be ugly. I'm not trying to make you all scared of me. I'm trying to make you respect me, ' or words to that effect.
8.Your misconduct has placed CPS, Carnegie, and Carnegie's staff and students in a bad light."

         The notice of the charges and specifications further concluded: "Based on the above specifications, dismissal is warranted based upon your irremediable conduct."

         ¶ 6 II. Dismissal Hearings

         ¶ 7 Petitioner's dismissal hearing occurred on June 18, 2014, and September 24, 2014. The Board's chief executive officer presented the following as witnesses: J.R., an 11-year-old student; L.C., the father of J.R.; F.W., a 12 year-old student; J.W., the mother of F.W.; M.F., a 13 year-old student; C.W., the mother of M.F.; Docilla Pollard, the principal at Carnegie; and Jennifer Detwyler, an investigator for the Board's law office. Petitioner presented Kelly Shepard, a teacher at Carnegie, and testified on his own behalf.

         ¶ 8 A. J.R.

         ¶ 9 J.R., a student in petitioner's classroom, testified that on February 8, 2013, he and another student were playing in the hallway and one of them stepped on a milk carton causing it to burst. J.R. testified that when petitioner arrived, petitioner hit both him and the other student on the back of the head. J.R. testified that he told petitioner not to touch him and then petitioner grabbed him by the neck and took him to the bathroom to talk. J.R. waited two days before he told his father about the incident.

         ¶ 10 B. L.C.

         ¶ 11 L.C. testified that he is J.R.'s father. L.C. testified that on or around February 8, 2013, he noticed a scratch on J.R.'s neck and inquired as to how it happened. J.R. told him he was playing in the hall and petitioner "smacked him upside his head" and told J.R. to come into the classroom. L.C. took a photo of the scratch and testified that it looked worse in person. J.R. told L.C. that he told petitioner not to touch him and then petitioner grabbed J.R. by the neck and walked him to the boys' bathroom. L.C. called the police and there was a meeting with the principal, the police officer, J.R., and L.C. L.C. filed a police report but did not file a criminal complaint. L.C. further testified that petitioner called him and told him that petitioner would never put his hands on any student in the future.

         ¶ 12 C. F.W.

         ¶ 13 F.W., another student in petitioner's classroom, testified that on September 9, 2013, he and a classmate, M.F., were throwing things in the classroom and when petitioner returned to the classroom from the hallway, petitioner was informed of the incident and grabbed M.F. by his hair and neck and threw him out of the classroom. F.W. testified that petitioner grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head against the bulletin board, and then threw him out of the classroom. F.W. further testified that he became angry and started crying and petitioner took him to the bathroom and apologized.

         ¶ 14 F.W. further testified that several days after the first incident, the students were lining up to go to lunch and recess and F.W. ended up in the girls' line without being aware of it. Petitioner told F.W. to go into the boys' line and as F.W. was walking slowly to his place in line petitioner grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head into the lockers. F.W. then went to the office and called his mother and was sad, embarrassed and crying.

         ¶ 15 D. J.W.

         ¶ 16 J.W., F.W.'s mother, testified that F.W. came home from school very upset and embarrassed on or around September 9, 2013, and told her he was throwing things in the classroom, and in response, petitioner grabbed him by his neck and slammed him into a bulletin board. J.W. told F.W. to stop misbehaving, but that he was to tell her if petitioner ever put his hands on him again. About 10 days later, F.W. called from school, and reported that petitioner had put his hands on him when he mistakenly was in the girls' line for recess. F.W. told her that petitioner grabbed him around the throat and slammed him into a locker causing bruises. J.W. observed the bruises on F.W. and took two photos of him that same evening. The photos were admitted into evidence. The photos showed bruising of her son's upper shoulder and chest. J.W. spoke with petitioner and the assistant principal a few days after this incident. Petitioner told her that his actions were his policy with behavior problems by students. F.W. was removed from petitioner's classroom; however, the only option that J.W. had was to enroll F.W. in a gifted program, which F.W. had trouble with and eventually, F.W. was returned to petitioner's classroom per J.W.'s request.

         ¶ 17 E. M.F.

         ¶ 18 M.F. testified that on September 9, 2013, he and F.W. were throwing things in the classroom while petitioner was in the hall. When petitioner returned, a fellow classmate told petitioner about the incident. Petitioner became angry and grabbed both boys by their necks and pushed them up to the front board. M.F. testified that petitioner punched F.W. in the chest and then took him to the bathroom. When F.W. returned, it appeared that he had been crying.

         ¶ 19 M.F. testified that on October 29, 2013, it was petitioner's policy that if you do not have your homework you need a note from a parent and he did not have one. He denied the claim that he told petitioner that another student had stolen his homework. M.F. testified that when he did not have his homework, petitioner hit him in the back, picked him up by his neck and hair, and took him into the hallway and petitioner physically put him back into the classroom. When M.F. went home that day, he told his mother what had happened.

         ¶ 20 F. C.W.

         ¶ 21 C.W., M.F.'s mother, testified that M.F. told her about the incident over homework, and that petitioner had grabbed M.F. by his shirt. She testified that M.F. was upset and scared. On October 30, 2013, M.F., C.W., Docilla Pollard, the principal, and petitioner met to discuss what had happened. C.W. testified that she secretly tape-recorded this meeting and that tape was admitted into evidence. C.W. testified that petitioner admitted grabbing M.F. by the shirt and removing him from the classroom. She further testified that she requested that petitioner stop touching M.F., and petitioner replied that this was the way he maintained discipline and he was not going to change. C.W. made the request several more times and eventually petitioner said okay. M.F. was ultimately removed from petitioner's classroom and transferred to another classroom.

         ¶ 22 G. Docilla Pollard

         ¶ 23 Docilla Pollard (Pollard) testified that she has been the principal at Carnegie since 2012. She testified that she had implemented the CHAMPS program when she began as Carnegie's principal after speaking with the teachers and learning that student discipline was one of the teachers' biggest concerns. CHAMPS is a behavior program that helps teachers manage classroom behavior and places procedures in place to ensure the safety of the children and staff. CHAMPS was included in the Carnegie staff handbook, which stated CHAMPS behavior program protocols are implemented school-wide and must be evident in each classroom. She testified that she also included a provision in the staff handbook, reminding teachers that corporal punishment is not tolerated. It stated in full, "[r]emember the Board of Education of the City of Chicago Rule section 6-21 states, '[n]o employee of the Board of Education may inflict corporal punishment of any kind upon persons attending the public school of the City of Chicago.' No corporal punishment." She also testified that every teacher is given a handbook upon employment at Carnegie.

         ¶ 24 Pollard testified that after she joined Carnegie, she began receiving complaints that petitioner was physical with the children. In each instance, Pollard was approached by a parent. Petitioner did not initiate contact with Pollard regarding any of the incidents at issue. Pollard discussed the complaints with petitioner and reported the incidents to the Department of Children and Family Services and in the Board's ...


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