WHAT IS “CAUSE” UNDER ILLINOIS LAW WHEN TERMINATING A TEACHER?

Under Illinois law, a teacher who is past their probationary period cannot be removed except for cause. But what is cause?

Cause may be remediable or irremediable. Remediable conduct may include substandard teaching. Irremediable conduct may include conduct that is cruel, immoral, negligent or criminal or in any way causes psychological or physical harm to a student.

For example, in Ahmad v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, a teacher falsely represented herself as a school district agent to obtain over $33,000 in free school supplies from a nonprofit organization that she intended to sell for her own profit; concealed her conduct from the district and refused to cooperate in the investigation. The court held that the teacher’s conduct was immoral and thus, irremediable. Immoral conduct is defined as shameless conduct showing moral indifference to the opinions of the good and respectable members of the community.

In contrast, the court in Jackson v. Bd. of Educ. did not find conduct immoral where a teacher failed to list his discharge from a police department on his employment application and failed to immediately report testing irregularities. The court stated that the board had failed to prove that the omission was intentional. Nor did the board have a procedure on how irregularities could be reported.

If you are a teacher facing termination, contact an school law attorney immediately. (You may wish to seek representation from your union.) You are entitled to different procedures depending on whether your conduct was remediable. An attorney can help prepare your case for hearing and help to define whether your conduct was in fact cruel, immoral, negligent or criminal.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois education matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

See: 105 ILCS 5/34-85.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS IN A TEACHER TERMINATION PROCEEDING UNDER ILLINOIS LAW?

Under Illinois law, you may only be terminated as a teacher for cause once your probationary period has expired. To do so, however, the school district must follow certain procedures. See: 105 ILCS 5/34-85.

If the alleged “cause” is remediable, you must receive a reasonable written warning specifically stating that such cause may result in charges unless you take steps to remove the problem. There are a couple exceptions to this rule, such as if you have failed a remediation plan or if the district and your union have agreed on an alternative system of remediation.

No written warning is required for irremediable conduct that is cruel, immoral, negligent or criminal or in any way causes psychological or physical harm a student. The language of the statute leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Before starting dismissal proceedings, the general superintendent must approve written charges and then serve notice upon you. Charges may be served by certified mail, return receipt requested, at your last known address. The notice must inform you of your rights regarding a hearing officer. If you wish to have a say in selecting a hearing officer from the school board’s list, you will have to pay half the hearing officer’s fees and costs. Otherwise, the district will pay any hearing officer selected solely by the board.

The hearing officer shall set a schedule which includes a deadline for you to answer the charges and state any affirmative defenses. Both you and the board must make certain disclosures at least ten calendar days before hearing including names of witnesses who will testify and other documentation. Failure to disclose such evidence on time may prevent you from using it at hearing. Procedures involving witnesses differ somewhat where the charges involve sexual or severe physical abuse of a student or someone under age 18.

You may attend the hearing with an attorney, testify on your own behalf, present and cross-examine witnesses. The hearing officer must begin the hearing within 75 calendar days and conclude within 120 calendar days after their selection although this schedule can be modified for cause or by mutual agreement. Each side has up to three days to present their case.

After the hearing, you have 21 days from receipt of a hearing transcript to submit a post-hearing brief. You must pay for your copy of the transcript, which may cost several hundred dollars. The hearing officer has 30 calendar days after the hearing to report their recommendation and factual findings on whether you should be dismissed. The board then has 45 days from receipt of that recommendation to make a decision.

If the board retains you, you may be entitled to back pay at that time. If the board dismisses you, an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District may be advised.

If you are a teacher facing termination, contact your union immediately for help. If you do not wish to proceed with the union’s attorney, you may retain a private attorney. Either way, an attorney can help present the facts of your case to the hearing officer in their best possible light. Because the Court of Appeals only reviews evidence from the hearing, it is critical that you submit every fact and argument in your favor at that time.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois education matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)