Earlier this month, the Illinois Appellate Court (First District) issued an opinion addressing a number of important student discipline and executive employment issues. Because the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court on the principles addressed in the case, it should be of interest to school leaders.
In Leak v. Board of Education of Rich Township High School District 227, the Appellate Court held that a superintendent could be dismissed for cause under her employment contract based on her improper sanctioning of an administrative committee’s transfer of disruptive students to alternative schools for more than 10 days without following the School Code procedures for student expulsion. The court held that Section 13A-4 of the School Code, addressing administrative transfers of disruptive students, did not authorize such transfers without Board action.
Significantly, dismissal for cause was appropriate even though the superintendent alleged that the Board had authorized and knowingly allowed the administrative transfers without Board action for years before moving to dismiss the Superintendent. The court held that a superintendent is required to know the law and follow the School Code, acting in the best interests of the District, and that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
Dismissal was also appropriate even if the Board members who voted to dismiss the superintendent had ulterior motives for dismissing her, as such motives did not negate the reasonable basis that existed for her dismissal. Finally, where the superintendent unquestionably received notice and a hearing before the Board, her due process rights were not violated even though she alleged that some of the Board members who conducted the hearing were biased against her. The mere allegation that Board members were biased against her was not sufficient to establish an unfair ruling on the evidence.