For school personnel administrators, it is a frustrating but typical experience to have a teachers’ union representative object to warnings and directives on the grounds that the warning is too broad, or not directly on point to the misconduct at hand. The Union’s rationale often follows this pattern –if the administrator writes a Notice to Remedy to address repeated unexcused absences, which is unprofessional, the administrator cannot use another type of unprofessional behavior, such as calling a student a disrespectful name, to dismiss that same teacher. A recent ruling from the Illinois Appellate Court, however, rejected this principle, holding that a teacher could be dismissed for misconduct even if that misconduct was not the same type of bad behavior as what was underlying the Board’s initial warning against the teacher.
In Kalisz vs. the Board of Education of Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated District 96, the Appellate Court upheld the school board’s dismissal of a tenured teacher based on misconduct that was distinct from the misconduct addressed in a previous Notice of Remedial Warning issued to the teacher. Specifically, the teacher was dismissed for repeatedly abandoning her classroom after receiving an earlier Notice to Remedy for lying to an administrator during an investigation. The Court upheld her dismissal on the basis that both actions constituted unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, and therefore was a clear violation of the Notice to Remedy.
In February 2016, tenured teacher Racheal Kalisz informed her supervisor that she was being investigated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) because of an allegation of abuse involving her children. While the DCFS allegation was ultimately determined to be unfounded, the District issued a Notice of Remedial Warning to Kalisz on the grounds that Kalisz lied to the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources during the District’s investigation of the events leading to the DCFS complaint. This lie was discovered when the District received DCFS’ report on the incident which was inconsistent with the reports Kalisz had provided during the District’s investigation.
The Notice of Remedial Warning was issued in May 2016. It identified the following unsatisfactory conduct which if repeated, would lead to her dismissal:
- Failing to cooperate with Administration in an investigation and giving false statements during an investigation;
- Demonstrating poor professional judgment and unprofessional conduct;
- Engaging in misconduct as defined by Board policy 5:38, including unlawful behavior that relates to employment duties, behavior that disrupts the educational process, and immoral conduct;
- Violating Board policies which set expectations for conduct and standards of service.
The Notice to Remedy directed Kalisz to immediately cease the conduct described above and abide by the following directives: (1) abide by all expectations set forth in Board policies; (2) cooperate with Board officials at all times; (3) be truthful when communicating with administration and in her duties as a teacher; (4) exercise appropriate and professional judgment; (5) conduct herself in a professional manner; (6) strictly adhere to the terms of the notice of remedial warning; and (7) follow all the Board’s policies, procedures and practices. The Notice concluded by instructing Kalisz that if she violated any of the directives, she would be dismissed.
In the 2017-2018 school year, the Board became aware of Kalisz frequently leaving her class during co-teaching while students were present for various personal reasons. On one occasion, Kalisz left the classroom for 40 minutes to make a phone call to an airline regarding her flight status. On another occasion, Kalisz left her class to go home without notifying anyone from administration or seeking approval and without requesting sick or personal time to cover her absence. After investigation of these unexcused absences, it was recommended Kalisz be dismissed from employment. The dismissal was based on Kalisz’s leaving the classroom, her absence without informing administration, and exercising unprofessional judgement and violating Board policies related to ethics, conduct, responsibilities, and duties. For those reasons, the Board stated Kalisz failed to remediate the behaviors as required in her 2016 Notice of Remedial warning and dismissed Kalisz.
At the hearing to review the dismissal, the Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer affirmed Kalisz’s termination on the grounds that Kalisz violated the notice of remedial warning against her by failing conduct herself professionally and adhere to Board policy. Kalisz appealed this determination to the circuit court. Citing Beggs v. Board of Education of Murphysboro Community Unit School District 186, 2016 ILC 120123, the circuit court reversed the termination, finding that the 2017-2018 was not substantially similar to the conduct that led to the 2016 notice of remedial warning.
The Appellate Court reversed the lower court’s decision by distinguishing the Beggs case. In Beggs, the factual record regarding the teacher’s conduct did not demonstrate a clear violation of the previous Notice to Remedy. In Kalisz’s case, however, the Appellate Court determined there was “no question” that Kalisz’s conduct of excessively leaving the classroom for extended periods to conduct personal business without administrative approval was a clear violation of the previous Notice of Remedial Warning.
This decision is a reminder to administrators charged with drafting effective Notices to Remedy. Such notices should capture both the specific acts of misconduct committed by the teacher and the broader policies, practices and expectations that are violated when the teacher engages in such actions.