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Shephard v. The Regional Board of School Trustees

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

March 28, 2018

CHARLES SHEPHARD, LYNN SHEPHARD, LAVERNE DAVIS, ALICE DAVIS, SHARON JOHNSON, HEIDI JOHNSON, RONALD MACY, THERESA MACY, C. NICHOLAS CRONAUER, AUDRA CRONAUER, LINNAE SMITH, and DAWN STYKA, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF DE KALB COUNTY, DE KALB COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 428, and SYCAMORE COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 427, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County. No. 16-MR-425 Honorable Bradley J. Waller, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hudson and Justice Spence concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHOSTOK JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The plaintiffs, Charles Shephard (Shephard), Lynn Shephard, Laverne Davis, Alice Davis, Sharon Johnson, Heidi Johnson, Ronald Macy, Theresa Macy, C. Nicholas Cronauer (Cronauer), Audra Cronauer, Linnae Smith, and Dawn Styka, petitioned the Regional Board of School Trustees of De Kalb County (the Board) to detach their properties from the boundaries of De Kalb Community Unit School District No. 428 (the De Kalb District) and annex them into the boundaries of Sycamore Community Unit School District No. 427 (the Sycamore District). After a hearing, the Board denied the plaintiffs' petition. On administrative review, the circuit court of De Kalb County affirmed the Board's decision. The plaintiffs appeal from that order. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On April 29, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a petition with the Board, seeking to detach their properties from the De Kalb District and annex it to the Sycamore District. On October 2, 2016, the Board conducted a hearing on the petition.

         ¶ 4 At the hearing, the plaintiffs and the De Kalb District stipulated that the plaintiffs lived within 10 miles of both the De Kalb District and the Sycamore District. The plaintiffs acknowledged that both districts have equally competent curricula. Eight of the twelve plaintiffs submitted written statements summarizing their contacts with the City of Sycamore. The written statements focused generally on how the plaintiffs identified themselves as residents of Sycamore rather than residents of the City of De Kalb or the Town of Cortland-they listed the recreational activities, public services, and business activities in which they participated in Sycamore.

         ¶ 5 Cronauer's written statement referenced an incident in January 2014 when students and faculty at Cortland Elementary School (Cortland Elementary), which is in the De Kalb District, were hospitalized "after toxic fumes (carbon monoxide) drifted from [a nearby] landfill and entered [the school's] ventilation system." Cronauer added that the landfill's capacity had increased from 300 tons of waste per day to 800 tons of waste per day as of January 2015. Cronauer asserted that the "chance of future harm to our children from the toxic fumes is significant."

         ¶ 6 Cronauer attached to his written statement newspaper articles about the incident. According to an article in the Daily Chronicle, a contractor for Waste Management, the landfill operator, "hit a pocket of old decomposing garbage" while performing maintenance work, "releasing the odor, but no methane gas, into the air." James Briscoe, the De Kalb District's superintendent, said that "wind carried the odor to the school less than a mile to the northeast." The Daily Chronicle reported that 63 students and staff of Cortland Elementary were treated with oxygen for "minor carbon monoxide exposure."

         ¶ 7 The article further reported that Waste Management stated that any future work would be performed "only when favorable conditions exist or the school is not in session as we complete this construction project." Waste Management also stated that, as of January 14, 2014, it hoped "to have this project completed in the next weeks *** based on favorable conditions."

         ¶ 8 The only plaintiffs to testify at the hearing were Shephard and Cronauer. Shephard said that he was familiar with the landfill incident at Cortland Elementary. He stated that he could smell the landfill when he drove by it. He acknowledged that he was not aware of any efforts to monitor emissions from the landfill by either Waste Management or Cortland Elementary. He also testified that, because De Kalb County had increased the amount of waste that Waste Management could bring to the landfill, there would be an additional 100 trucks driving to the landfill every day. He also noted that Cortland Elementary is located on Route 38, which means that traffic traveling 55 miles per hour passes the school.

         ¶ 9 Cronauer testified that he believed that children would benefit from going to the same school as other members of their community. He also believed that the "rural roads" around Cortland Elementary were not safe and that school buses going to and from the school have to turn onto a road with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour. He also stated that just because Waste Management or Cortland Elementary monitored emissions from the landfill, "that doesn't mean it's going to prevent another accident from happening again."

         ¶ 10 On behalf of the De Kalb District, Jennie Heuber, the De Kalb District's director of curriculum and instruction, and Andrea Gorla, the De Kalb District's assistant superintendent, testified. Heuber testified that the De Kalb District's curriculum met the standards of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq. (West 2016)) and the Illinois State Board of Education. She stated that there were no meaningful distinctions between the De Kalb District's curriculum and the Sycamore District's curriculum. Heuber explained that all students in the De Kalb District enjoyed the benefit of "the 'curriculum tech initiative, ' " through which all students in grades 3 through 12 received Chromebook laptops. She further noted that in all of its facilities the De Kalb District used "instructional coaches" who work with teachers to make "sure that best practices are in place" in the classrooms. She believed that the De Kalb District met the students' needs.

         ¶ 11 Gorla testified that, with respect to the landfill incident, meters had been installed in Cortland Elementary to monitor the air quality. Members of the school's staff were trained on how to respond if a monitor triggered an alarm. ...


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