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Board of Education of City of Chicago v. Moore

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

December 23, 2019

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, JANICE JACKSON, Chief Executive Officer, and ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Petitioners-Appellees,
v.
DAPHNE MOORE, Respondent-Appellant.

          Petition for Review from a Final Administrative Decision of the Chicago Board of Education Nos. 18-1024-RS5, 18-1024-EX11.

          JUSTICE PIERCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Griffin and Justice Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          PIERCE JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 The Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board) filed disciplinary proceedings against Respondent, Daphne Moore, seeking her dismissal pursuant to section 34-85 of the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 2016)). After a hearing, the hearing officer recommended that Moore be reinstated. The Board adopted the hearing officer's recommendation and declined to dismiss Moore. However, the Board rejected the hearing officer's finding that Moore's version of events was credible and issued a Warning Resolution to Moore. The Board further found "that Moore's misconduct warrants a 90-day time-served suspension to be deducted from her net back pay." Moore appeals, arguing that the suspension and reduction in her back pay are unauthorized by law. For the following reasons, we agree and reverse the final administrative decision of the Board and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On April 25, 2017, the Chief Executive Officer of the Board approved charges and specifications against Moore. The Board sought dismissal of Moore, a tenured teacher at Charles W. Earle Elementary School in Chicago, because of her response to an incident that occurred in September 2016. The Board sent a dismissal letter to Moore, notifying her that charges had been approved pursuant to section 34-85 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 2016)). The letter also informed Moore that she could be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the dismissal hearing. In the dismissal letter, the Board identified eight charges against Moore that generally alleged a failure of supervision, a failure to perform certain duties, and a failure to comply with Board policies and state ethical and professional teaching standards.

         ¶ 4 On March 8, 2018, a dismissal hearing under section 34-85 was held on the charges and specifications before a mutually-selected hearing officer. Testimony was taken from several witnesses. On September 7, 2018, the hearing officer issued his findings and recommendations. The hearing officer found that the Board had not met its burden to show that Moore acted negligently and that the Board had not met its burden to show that Moore lied to the Board's investigator. Based on those findings, the hearing officer found that the Board had not established cause to dismiss Moore.

         ¶ 5 On October 24, 2018, the Board issued its Opinion and Order adopting in part and rejecting in part the hearing officer's findings. Relevant to this appeal, the Board adopted the hearing officer's finding that it did not have cause to discharge Moore. However, because the Board found that Moore "failed to act in a prudent and responsible manner," the Board reinstated Moore and issued a Warning Resolution directing her to receive certain training. The Board concluded its order by stating "[M]oreover, the Board finds that Moore's misconduct warrants a 90-day time-served suspension to be deducted from her net pay."

         ¶ 6 Plaintiff timely sought administrative review in this court, challenging only the imposition of the "time-served suspension" and the corresponding deduction of salary from her net back pay.

         ¶ 7 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 8 The issue before us is whether dismissal proceedings against a tenured teacher under section 34-85 of the School Code authorize the imposition of a "time-served suspension" with a corresponding deduction of salary from the teacher's back pay and benefits award. Moore argues that section 34-85 authorizes only a termination finding and, where termination is not ordered, the Board must make the reinstated teacher whole for lost earnings. Moore further argues that if the Board issued the suspension and salary reduction penalty under a different section of the School Code, her due process rights were violated because she was never notified that it was proceeding on these alternate grounds. The Board argues that even if the time-served suspension without pay penalty is not provided for in section 34-85, other sections of the School Code allow the Board to suspend teachers without pay, and Moore's due process rights were not violated by the imposition of this penalty. For the following reasons, we reverse the decision of the Board and remand for calculation of Moore's back pay award.

         ¶ 9 The School Code provides for judicial review of Board decisions made pursuant to section 34-85. The School Code incorporates the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2016)), but requires administrative review to be initiated in this court. 105 ILCS 5/34-85(a)(8) (West 2016). In an administrative review action, an agency's decision on a question of law is not binding on the reviewing court. Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill.2d 200, 210 (2008). "Where resolution of an issue turns on the interpretation of a statute, our review is de novo." Finko v. City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, 2016 IL App (1st) 152888, ¶ 17.

         ¶ 10 We first consider whether section 34-85 of the School Code authorizes the Board to reduce a reinstated teacher's back pay as a disciplinary penalty. We find that it does not. Section 34-85 sets forth the procedures for removal of a teacher for cause. In relevant part, section 34-85 provides,

"Pending the hearing of the charges, the general superintendent or his or her designee may suspend the teacher or principal charged without pay in accordance with rules prescribed by the board, provided that if the teacher or principal charged is not dismissed based on the charges, he or she must ...

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