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Jain v. Butler Illinois School District 53

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 5, 2017

S. Jain, for herself and on behalf of her minor son “A, ” Plaintiffs,
v.
Butler Illinois School District 53, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          HON. RONALD A. GUZMÁN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court grants Defendants' motions to dismiss [48] [53], and this case is dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff may file an amended complaint, if her counsel can do so in good faith and in keeping with Rule 11, by 9/21/2017. Should Plaintiff fail to file her amended complaint consistent with this order or within the allotted time, the entire case shall be dismissed with prejudice for failure to comply with a court order and/or for failure to prosecute.

         STATEMENT

         This is a Section 1983 case pertaining to the investigation and discipline of Plaintiff S. Jain's minor son “A” for academic dishonesty.

         I. Background

         In a sprawling 69-page complaint, Plaintiff alleges a litany of purported (and misguided) constitutional claims against Defendants, ranging from due process violations “under the 5th, 6th, 10th, and 14th Amendments” regarding the investigation of A's academic dishonesty, to claims that Defendants violated A's Fifth Amendment rights when he was questioned in the principal's office (despite no law enforcement being present or any threat of criminal prosecution). (4th Am. Compl. [Dkt. # 42] at 37.) The complaint itself, moreover, is riddled with ambiguity and imprecision, and the facts alleged are presented in a disorganized fashion. The combination of these shortcomings makes it difficult to discern the precise nature of Plaintiff's claims. The Court will therefore attempt to frame the pertinent facts in a logical fashion and then turn to specific allegations within the context of its analysis.

         (A) The National Geographic Spelling Bee and Initial Investigation

         A was formerly a fifth grade student at Butler School District 53. In January 2016, Dr. Heidi Wennstrom (the district Superintendent) received a report suggesting that Plaintiff and other District 53 parents were engaging in unethical and deceptive practices in order to provide A and other students with unfair advantages in the National Geographic Bee (the “GeoBee”), which is an extracurricular academic activity. Specifically, the report stated that the subject parents obtained the official questions for the GeoBee in advance by illegitimately registering themselves as educators, thus prompting an investigation by Dr. Wennstrom.

         The investigation came to a head on January 19, 2016, when Assistant Principal Lisa Owen escorted A out of his classroom and brought him to the Principal's office, where he was “interrogated” for over an hour by Dr. Wennstrom and Principal Kelly Voliva. Neither A nor his parents were informed of this meeting (or the accusations) ahead of time. According to Plaintiff, Wennstrom, Owen, and Voliva intimidated A until he falsely admitted to cheating (i.e., that his parents gave him an unauthorized copy of that year's GeoBee test in advance). Thus, given A's admissions, and combined with her review of the evidence and discussions with GeoBee administrators and other students, Dr. Wennstrom concluded that A had cheated with the help of his parents and documented her findings in a letter to Plaintiff dated February 8, 2016.[1]

         The letter states in pertinent part as follows:

The District was able to confirm . . .:
1. You falsified registration with WordMasters [a separate spelling bee] and signed up as a homeschool provider in order to access contest questions in advance . . . so your child would have an unfair advantage during the contest.
[. . . . ]
5. You obtained the official [GeoBee] contest questions by accessing them through a shared joint email and password with another District parent prior to the first day of the contest on January 19, 2016.
6. Your child admitted that prior to the January 19, 2016 [GeoBee], you reviewed and studied with your child the actual contest questions. . . . Your child identified approximately 20 questions by content and answer choices that he was exposed to prior to the contest.
7. Your child engaged in academic dishonesty and cheating on the WordMasters Challenge and [GeoBee] with your assistance.
8. You obtained copies of school assessments, specifically the Foutnas & Pinnell assessment, and reviewed and such with your child prior to his reassessment of the entrance exam into the Advanced Learning Program. . . . Due to your child's [improper] exposure to the material . . . . entrance to the ALP ELA class was based on an inaccurate score.
9. You have declined to meet with the District Administration as part of this investigation even though a request to do so was provided three times.

         The findings of my investigation yielded a clear picture of intentional academic dishonesty and unethical behaviors harmful to the District, its students, and your child. . . . Based on such and the above outlined findings, the District is immediately instituting the following sanctions:

1. Your child is no longer permitted to participate in any Butler 53 School District academic contests and/or competitions, team or individual, while he is a student within the District. Your child is allowed to participate in after school clubs, activities, and extracurricular activities that do not have an academic contest and/or competition component.
2. You are not permitted to serve in any capacity as a parent volunteer in any school related contests. . . .
3. Based upon entrance data that provided inaccurate academic standing, the District could remove your child from ALP ELA. However, at this time we will keep your child in ALP ELA and continue to monitor [his performance].

(Wennstrom Letter [Dkt. # 54, Ex. A] at 22-23.) That same day, Dr. Wennstrom also sent an email to teachers, administrators, and parents within the District explaining the investigation, her findings, and policy changes in the District's extracurricular programs to discourage cheating in the future. The letter did not, however, mention Plaintiff, A, or any ...


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