Board of Education of City of Chicago v. Moore, 012221 ILSC, 125785

Docket Nº:125785
Opinion Judge:NEVILLE, JUSTICE
Party Name:THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO et al ., Appellants, v. DAPHNE MOORE, Appellee.
Judge Panel:JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices Garman, Theis, Michael J. Burke, Overstreet, and Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Case Date:January 22, 2021
Court:Supreme Court of Illinois

2021 IL 125785

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO et al ., Appellants,

v.

DAPHNE MOORE, Appellee.

No. 125785

Supreme Court of Illinois

January 22, 2021

JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices Garman, Theis, Michael J. Burke, Overstreet, and Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

NEVILLE, JUSTICE

¶ 1 The Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board) filed dismissal charges against respondent Daphne Moore, a tenured teacher, pursuant to section 34-85 of the School Code. 105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 2016). The notice of the charges informed Moore that she was suspended without pay pending a dismissal hearing. After the hearing, the hearing officer recommended that Moore be reinstated. The Board adopted the hearing officer's recommendation, in part, declining to dismiss Moore. However, the Board issued a warning resolution, finding that Moore's misconduct warranted a 90-day time-served suspension with a deduction from her net back pay. Moore filed an appeal and argued that her suspension and reduction in back pay were unauthorized by law. The appellate court agreed, holding that, once termination proceedings were initiated, the Board could only dismiss Moore or reinstate her with full back pay. 2019 IL App (1st) 182391, ¶ 14. We allowed the Board's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Oct. 1, 2019). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Moore had been employed as a tenured teacher by the Board since 1994, and she worked at the Charles W. Earle STEM Academy during the 2016-17 academic year. On September 13, 2016, Moore was in her classroom when she was advised by her students that another student in the classroom had ingested some pills. Other school personnel immediately became involved in responding to the incident.

¶ 4 A. The Dismissal Charges

¶ 5 On April 25, 2017, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) approved dismissal charges and specifications, and the Board sent a dismissal letter to Moore stating that the charges were brought pursuant to section 34-85 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 2016)). The charges alleged that Moore failed to appropriately respond to a student's apparent overdose of medication in the classroom on or about September 13, 2016. They also alleged a failure to supervise, a failure to perform certain duties, and a failure to comply with the Board's policies and the State's ethical and professional teaching standards. The notice of charges informed Moore that the Board requested that she be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the dismissal hearing.

¶ 6 B. The Dismissal Hearing

¶ 7 On April 27, 2017, Moore invoked her rights as a tenured teacher under section 34-85 of the School Code and requested a hearing on the charges. The dismissal hearing proceeded on March 8, 2018. On September 7, 2018, the hearing officer issued his findings and recommendations. The hearing officer found (1) that Moore had in fact alerted the administration to the student's overdose and (2) that she had not lied during the investigation of the incident. Therefore, the hearing officer concluded that the Board's evidence failed to establish cause for Moore's dismissal.

¶ 8 C. The Board's Opinion

¶ 9 On October 24, 2018, the Board's opinion and order partially adopted and partially rejected the hearing officer's recommended findings. In particular, the Board agreed with and adopted the hearing officer's determination that Moore should be reinstated because there was insufficient cause for her dismissal. However, the Board found that Moore failed to act in a prudent and responsible manner when she responded to the September 13, 2016, incident. The Board also found that Moore failed to check on the well-being of the student after learning that she had just ingested an unknown quantity of pills. In addition, the Board found that Moore failed to notify her colleagues in a timely fashion when the student was in distress in her classroom, which placed the student's well-being and safety in jeopardy. The Board concluded that Moore's conduct was below the level expected from a reasonably prudent teacher.

¶ 10 The Board determined that Moore's negligent behavior was remediable and, therefore, did not warrant her dismissal. However, the Board found that Moore's misconduct warranted a 90-day suspension (time served pending the hearing) without pay. Accordingly, the Board issued a warning resolution against Moore, which required her to attend training on emergency responsiveness and suicide prevention, and a "90-day reduction in the net back pay paid out to her."

¶ 11 D. The Appellate Court Opinion

¶ 12 Moore filed a petition for administrative review of the Board's order in the appellate court contending that the suspension and reduction in back pay were unauthorized by law. See id. § 34-85(a)(8) (teacher may seek judicial review of a board's decision pursuant to the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2016)), except review must be initiated in Illinois Appellate Court, First District). The appellate court agreed with Moore and reversed the Board's decision. 2019 IL App (1st) 182391, ¶ 26. The appellate court held that the Board could only exercise powers conferred upon it by law and, under section 34-85, once termination proceedings had been initiated, the Board could only dismiss or reinstate Moore with full back pay. Id. ¶ 14. The court found that the Board had no express or implied authority to conclude the dismissal proceedings by imposing a suspension in lieu of termination. Id. ¶¶ 16-18. The appellate court also rejected the Board's contention that it had the power to suspend Moore under a different section of the School Code, finding that contention to be an impermissible post hoc justification for Moore's suspension. Id. ¶ 19. After the appellate court filed its opinion, the Board filed a petition for leave to appeal, and it was allowed by this court. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff Oct. 1, 2019).

¶ 13 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 14 Before this court, the Board challenges the appellate court's holding that it had no authority to discipline Moore with a 90-day time-served suspension without pay after it had commenced termination proceedings. The Board contends that section 34-85 of the School Code does not divest it of the ability to discipline Moore with a suspension and reduction in back pay. The Board also contends that, under prevailing authority, school boards have authority to impose a suspension or other corrective measures as discipline and as a safety response. Finally, the Board maintains that it made Moore whole for lost earnings during her prehearing suspension, but that amount was correctly offset by the 90-day reduction in net back pay resulting from her disciplinary suspension.

¶ 15 In response, Moore argues that the appellate court's judgment should be affirmed because her suspension and reduction in back pay were not authorized by the School Code. In particular, Moore contends that the 2011 amendment to section 34-85 of the School Code (Pub. Act 97-8 (eff. June 13, 2011)) eliminated the Board's ability to suspend a teacher at the end of a dismissal proceeding. Moore further contends that the general provision authorizing the Board to issue a suspension under section 34-18 conflicts with the specific directive of section 34-85. According to Moore, because section 34-85 is more specific, it is determinative. Moore further maintains that, on administrative review, the Board is constrained by section 34-85 as the legal basis for its decision and cannot rely on a different section of the School Code to justify her suspension and reduction in back pay. Lastly, Moore contends that the Board is statutorily prohibited from using a "retroactive" suspension to reduce her back pay.

¶ 16 A. Standard of Review

¶ 17 The School Code provides that a final order of the Board is subject to judicial review pursuant to the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2016)) and that a School Board's appeal may be taken directly to the appellate court (105 ILCS 5/34-85(a)(8) (West 2016)). On administrative review, our role is to review the decision of the Board and not the determination of the appellate court. Board of Education of the City of Chicago v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 2015 IL 118043, ¶ 14. Under the Administrative Review Law, the proper standard of review depends upon whether the question presented is one of fact, one of law, or a mixed question of fact and law. Beggs v. Board of Education of Murphysboro Community Unit School District No. 186, 2016 IL 120236, ¶ 50 (citing Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill.2d 200, 210 (2008)). An administrative agency's findings of fact are considered prima facie true and may only be reversed if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Id. Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Id. Mixed questions of law and fact, where we analyze the legal effect of a given set of facts, are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard. Id.

¶ 18 Whether the Board has authority to suspend and reduce the back pay of a tenured teacher, after termination proceedings have been initiated under section 34-85 of the School Code, requires us to construe the statute. A case involving statutory construction presents a question of law, which we review de novo. Id.; Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1 v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 2012 IL 112566, ¶ 15.

¶ 19 B. General Principles of Statutory Construction

¶ 20 In construing the School Code, we are guided...

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