Recent Appellate Court Opinion Clarifies Law on School District Annexation/Detachment Petitions
Recently, the Illinois Appellate Court issued an opinion in The Board of Education of Indian Prairie Community Unit School District No. 204 v. The Regional Board of School Trustees of Will County, Illinois, No. 3-08-0819 (3rd Dist. July 30, 2009). The opinion, which adopts much of the language and reasoning from the brief submitted by Franczek P.C. on behalf of Plainfield School District No. 202, is the first published opinion in decades concerning administrative review of annexation/detachment petitions.
In 2006, a group of residents in the Tamarack Fairways subdivision of Naperville submitted a petition requesting detachment from Plainfield School District No. 202 and annexation to Indian Prairie School District No. 204. As provided in the School Code, a Committee of Ten was appointed to represent the group. Both school districts opposed the petition, which was granted by the Regional Board of Education. Among other issues, the school districts opposed the inclusion of a provision that would have allowed students in the detached area who had already started high school to choose which of the two school districts they would attend. On administrative review of the Regional Board’s decision, the Circuit Court ruled that it did not have the authority to modify the petition submitted to the Regional Board and that the school choice provision was a fatal flaw that invalidated the entire petition.
On appeal to the Third District Appellate Court by the Committee of Ten, the petitioners argued that the Circuit Court had the authority to cure the flaw in the petition by deleting the school choice provision. Franczek attorneys Respicio Vazquez, with assistance from Brian Crowley and Scott Metcalf argued that the Illinois Administrative Review Law did not grant the Circuit Court the authority to modify the petition. Under the School Code, case law clearly indicates that a petition for annexation/detachment may only be approved or denied by the Regional Board in its entirety; it may not be modified. Therefore, when a Circuit Court reviews the Regional Board’s decision, the only issue before the Court is whether that singular decision was correct. Further, allowing the Circuit Court to modify the petition would violate public policy by allowing modifications that may contradict the intent of the signers of the petition. The Appellate Court agreed, ruling that the Circuit Court’s decision denying the petition was correct.
The Appellate Court ruling was initially classified as an unpublished order. However, the Court granted Franczek P.C.’s motion to publish the decision based on the contribution the opinion makes to a narrow but important area of school district case law. The decision in its entirety is available at http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/recent_appellate.asp The Committee of Ten has filed a petition for leave to file an appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, which is currently pending.