Sexual Harassment Amounts to Immoral Conduct Warranting Dismissal of Tenured Teacher
In a recent Illinois case, the Second District Appellate Court affirmed a school board’s termination of a tenured teacher who sexually harassed students on the girls’ track team he coached. The students alleged that the teacher made sexual and other inappropriate comments, invaded their personal space, leered at them, touched them on the buttocks, and caused them emotional distress. Finding the teacher’s conduct irremediable, the school board dismissed. The termination decision was supported by a ISBE hearing officer and upheld by the Circuit Court and Appellate Court even though the teacher had no disciplinary history and neither DCFS nor the police moved forward with charges.
Of specific note, the Appellate Court rejected the argument that conduct must be “egregious” such as “fondling, caressing, molesting or quid pro quo” to be considered immoral and therefore irremediable. Instead, the Court recognized that the teacher’s harassment of the student athletes could reasonably be interpreted as immoral behavior and had no legitimate basis in school policy or society today. The Court also affirmed prior cases finding that an expert opinion is not required to establish harm to students to establish irremediable conduct — the students’ testimony was deemed sufficient.
The case serves as an important reminder to school boards that inappropriate conduct toward students, even if not criminal in nature, can serve as a basis for dismissal of a tenured teacher. For more information on this or any other school personnel issues, contact the authors of this article or any other Franczek attorney.