The Illinois Supreme Court recently held in Doe-3 v. McLean County Unit District No. 5 that a school district may face liability for failing to accurately report a teacher’s work history to a requesting district where the teacher had been disciplined for sexual misconduct at the first district and went on to abuse eight students at the new district. Plaintiffs alleged that the district “passed” the teacher to another district while concealing his history of sexual harassment/ grooming/ abuse of his students.
The teacher, Jon White, was employed by McLean County Unit School District No. 5 in Normal, Illinois. During 2004-2005, he was suspended twice and ultimately entered a resignation agreement with the district prior to the end of the school year due to his sexual misconduct. White then applied to work in Urbana School District No. 116, and Urbana requested verification of his prior employment from McLean County. McLean County verified that White had been employed as a teacher during the 2004-2005 school year, but neglected to state that he resigned prior the end of the year. While teaching in Urbana, White abused eight other students. White pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse and was sentenced to 48 years in prison.
Parents of two of the abused students in Urbana sued both school districts. The trial court dismissed the charges against McLean County, holding that the district did not owe a “duty of care” to the students in Urbana. A divided Illinois Supreme Court, however, disagreed, holding that McLean County had a duty to accurately report the number of days White had worked in 2004-2005 upon Urbana’s request. The court reasoned that the resulting injuries were reasonably foreseeable, and that an accurate report may have prompted Urbana to further investigate and consequently not employ White. The court did not hold that McLean County had an affirmative duty to warn Urbana, and did not determine whether the district would ultimately be liable to the plaintiffs.
The parents also alleged that McLean officials failed to report White to DCFS, in violation of their responsibilities under of the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA). Other courts have held that a violation of ANCRA does not give rise to a private cause of action, and the Court majority did not address the issue. But if McLean County had complied with its reporting requirements, the likelihood that White would have gone on to teach in another district and have an opportunity to abuse other children is slight.
So although the holding in this case is narrow and simply requires districts to provide accurate information when responding to requests from other districts, the important take-away is a reminder of ANCRA’s requirement that school personnel report all suspected child abuse and neglect to DCFS, including when the suspected abuser is a teacher. Further, the current version of ANCRA requires that if a district makes a report to DCFS concerning one of its employees and another district later inquires about that employee’s job performance or qualifications because the employee is seeking employment in the second district, the first district must disclose to the requesting district that a DCFS report was made.