447 F.2d 1025 (7th Cir. 1971), 18790, Shirck v. Thomas

Docket Nº:18790.
Citation:447 F.2d 1025
Party Name:Ruth SHIRCK, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Robert S. THOMAS et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:September 02, 1971
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 1025

447 F.2d 1025 (7th Cir. 1971)

Ruth SHIRCK, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Robert S. THOMAS et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 18790.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Sept. 2, 1971

Rehearing Denied Sept. 24, 1971.

Joseph R. Napoli, Peoria, Ill., Richard J. Medalie, Alvin Friedman, Epstein, Friedman & Duncan, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff-appellant; Silberstein & Napoli, Peoria, Ill., of counsel.

Richard N. Molchan, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Peoria, Ill., for defendant-appellees; Stephen H. Gunning, Peoria, Ill., of counsel.

Before SWYGERT, Chief Judge, FAIRCHILD and STEVENS, Circuit Judges.

Page 1026

FAIRCHILD, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, concerning the nonrenewal by defendant school officials of a public high school teacher's contract at the end of her probationary period. The district court's decision is reported at 315 F.Supp. 1124 (S.D.Ill., 1970).

Plaintiff Ruth Shirck taught German at an Illinois public high school for two years, ending in the spring of 1969. A teacher's probationary period in Illinois is two consecutive school years of full time instruction. Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 122, § 24-11 (1969). In March, 1969 two of the school administrators informed her that they were planning to recommend to the school board that her contract not be renewed for 1969-70. They explained the reasons for their decision which related to her performance in her work, particularly her failure to coordinate her teaching with that of the other German teacher so that students who needed to transfer at the end of a semester would not be handicapped. The affidavits are in conflict as to whether these problems had previously been discussed with her.

Plaintiff met with the president of the school board. The president, in his affidavit, said he advised her of the date and time of the board meeting at which the decision would be made, and assured her that 'she would be given the opportunity to explain and support her position.' Plaintiff stated in her affidavit that the president did not tell her she would have that opportunity. She did not attend the meeting, and the board voted not to renew her contract. The board secretary so notified plaintiff by letter April 1, 1969, again stating the reasons given earlier.

The district court concluded that plaintiff had made no showing that the decision of the board not to renew her contract deprived her of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the constitution and laws of the United States. The court noted that the board had given plaintiff notice of reasons for its action as required by Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 122, § 24-11, and concluded that it was immaterial whether, as asserted by the board president, she had been advised that she would have the opportunity of explaining and supporting her position at the meeting of the board.

We recently decided, in Roth v. Board of Regents 1 that a non-tenured professor at a state university is constitutionally entitled, if he is not to be retained, to be offered a statement of the reasons why he is not to be retained and a hearing at which he can respond. If the same principle applies to a public high school teacher, it must follow that, although plaintiff here received a statement of reasons, summary judgment against her can not be sustained, because there is an issue whether she was offered a hearing at which she could respond.

We think the Roth principle applies to a public high school teacher as well as to a state university professor. As in Roth, the test is one of balancing 'the precise nature of the government function involved' against 'the private interest that has been affected by governmental action.' 2

The public school's interest in selecting its permanent teaching staff is the same as that of the state university in Roth. On the other side, the impact of the board's decision on the high school teacher's employability, professional reputation, and other career interests appears comparable to the impact on those interests of a college professor. The district court whose decision we affirmed in Roth has held that the same type of due process protection extends to public elementary and secondary school teachers. 3 The same type of due process protection

Page 1027

was required for a public high school teacher in Orr v. Trinter (S.D.Ohio, 1970), 318 F.Supp. 1041, 1046.

Accordingly, we hold that plaintiff here was not only entitled to the statement of reasons which she did receive, but also notice of a hearing at which she might respond to the stated reasons. Since she did not attend the meeting of the board, the record does not show that the board would not have granted her the kind of hearing required by Roth. In any event there is a dispute over whether she was notified that the board would hear her, and our decision in Roth requires that the summary judgment against her be reversed.

Plaintiff's brief makes it clear that she would have this court go further than we did in Roth.

First, plaintiff argues that the defendants could not rely on the reason stated with respect to failure to coordinate her teaching with that of her colleague unless the defendants could also show that they had defined in advance the standard of conduct to be followed and informed plaintiff of it. We think, however, that a teacher may be assumed to be competent in matters of classroom performance, and the school must have considerable freedom to refuse to retain a probationary...

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