Illinois Appellate Court: Teacher’s Repeated Cheating Is Irremediable Cause for Dismissal
The Illinois Appellate Court recently affirmed the dismissal of a tenured fifth-grade teacher accused of intentionally breaking the seals on standardized test booklets to help students cheat on the test. This case is certainly not the first time that a tenured teacher’s cheating on standardized testing has been found to be irremediable conduct allowing dismissal without a warning, but the decision in Longanecker v. East Moline School District #37 certainly solidifies the ground on which a school board stands when dismissing a tenured teacher for such a reason. More notably, the case is an example of a court upholding a school board’s decision to dismiss a teacher where the hearing officer recommended reinstatement. We have reported on recent cases in which courts have rejected such attempts by school boards, so the Longanecker case provides a useful example to school districts that disagree with a hearing officer’s recommendation.
In Longanecker, the tenured teacher was found to have opened a sealed ISAT test booklet with the express intent to improperly assist certain students on the test despite knowing such conduct was prohibited. She also helped students answer questions on the test and tried to blame the opened test booklet on a student. Following the termination hearing, the hearing officer concluded that the school district had not proven misconduct, and recommended reinstatement.
The school board rejected the hearing officer’s findings and recommendation, issued its own factual findings, and went forward with termination. Longanecker challenged the school board’s decision and the case made its way to the Third District Appellate Court for review. On appeal, Longanecker argued that the school board exceeded its authority, but the appellate court disagreed. Citing the Illinois Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Beggs v. Board of Education of Murphysboro Community Unit School District No. 186, the court explained that courts are required to defer to the findings and determination of the school board, not the hearing officer, when reviewing a decision to terminate a tenured teacher.
As we noted in our alert when Beggs was issued in 2016 and in a subsequent alert on a similar case earlier this year, Illinois courts have set a high bar for when a school board can reject a hearing officer’s findings. The Longanecker case is a rare example when an Illinois court has agreed with such a decision by a school board, and is an important example for school boards when making similar decisions. Notably, in Longanecker the school board issued several supplemental factual findings supporting its conclusion that Longanecker had engaged in the conduct at issue. The facts showed Longanecker committed serious acts of misconduct which damaged students, faculty, and the school in several respects. Moreover, the Court found that the conduct represented a violation of Longanecker’s core duties as a teacher. Accordingly, her termination was justified and could not be considered arbitrary, unreasonable, or unrelated to the requirements of her service.
For more information on this or any other school personnel issues, contact the authors of this article or any other Franczek attorney.