Do NOT make a Chicago Public School principal angry.

The First District Appellate Court recently issued a decision that puts a spotlight on some disturbing behavior by Chicago Public School educators. In Taylor v. The Board of Education of City of Chicago, Kenneth Taylor filed suit after his termination from his teaching position. The evidence at trial revealed that Taylor began his employment with the Board in 1990 as a teacher at Robeson High School. By 1992 he had become tenured. Later Taylor became interested in educational administration and returned to school, earning a Master’s Degree in School Leadership. Additionally he became qualified to serve as a principal or assistant principal. While teaching, he received excellent evaluations.

In 2001, Taylor was hired to serve as an Assistant Principal in at a elementary magnet school – specifically Goodlow MagnetSchool[Goodlow]. Upon taking the position, Taylor gave up his tenured status. The plaintiff had been chosen for the position by Goodlow’s principal, Patricia Lewis[“Lewis”]. Lewis had been hired under an employment contract that was governed by Board Rules. Under the Rules, a principal may serve a term up to 4 years – after which the contract can be terminated for cause. The Board allows principals, at the start of their respective contracts to select an new principal or keep the old one. Lewis retained Taylor through the initial 4 year term and again when her contract was renewed in 2005.

As an assistant principal Taylor was basically in charge when Lewis was gone. He was also placed in charged of the “school based problem solving program” – dealing with kids showing behavior issues. Taylor was also designated a “mandated reporter” – meaning he was obligated to report any reasonable suspicion of child abuse to DCFS. When CPS personnel were alleged to have abused a kid, the principal or vice-principal is to conduct a brief fact-finding inquiry with the alleged victim, alleged offender and any witnesses. The assistant principal is also obligated to contact the police and forward any incident report along with any police report to the Department of Children and Family Services[“DCFS”].

On May 16, 2007, Lewis was out of the building and Taylor was in charge. A teacher appeared and reported she had just observed a special education teacher kick a second grade student in the back of his legs, causing the student to fall and strike his head. The child had been diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder and was in the problem-solving program. Taylor advised the reporting teacher that she was obligated to contact DCFS. The teacher refused. Taylor then called the Board Legal Department who instructed the teacher to report the incident to DCFS. The teacher again refused. The Legal Department then instructed Taylor to make the report.

After a brief discussion with the child, Taylor reported the incident to DCFS and the police. Taylor also created the required incident report. Taylor then contacted Lewis who was NOT happy. Lewis advised Taylor he had mishandled the situation because the teacher had been engaged in “role-playing” approved by the parent. Taylor, was not aware of any “therapy” that condoned the use of force against students.

And then, things went south for Taylor. Lewis allegedly became hostile. His performance rating was lowered. His position was reduced from Assistant Principal to Social Studies teacher[though he did not have appropriate certification to teach Social Studies]. When Taylor was suffering through back pain he took an approved 5 week medical leave. Lewis subsequently allegedly complained to the Board and indicated Taylor was AWOL. When Taylor went to the Board to complain about what he considered retaliation, the Board launched an “investigation” – which consisted of an one interview – with Lewis. The investigator concluded that Taylor’s complaints were “false”. In December of 2007 Taylor was reprimanded for making false allegations against Lewis.

In late December, 2007, Taylor’s mother died. He took a bereavement leave until early, 2008. Upon his return to class, Lewis closely observed him. She then filed a written request for emergency removal of Taylor from the school. Additionally, she then again changed his position to one where he supervised troublesome kids. In February of 2008 and May of 2008 Lewis sought to discipline Taylor for alleged infractions. In late 2008, Lewis tried to keep Taylor out of the building due to “assault charges”. Taylor said no charges were assault charges were ever made against him.

The mess came to an end in January of 2009 when the plaintiff was notified he was released from his contract with Goodlow.

Plaintiff sued the Board, alleging retaliatory discharge and a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act(740 ILCS 174/1). The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff on both counts – for $1,000,500.

The Board appealed, claiming that Taylor could not assert a retaliatory claim because he was not an employee at will, but was instead contract employee for a definite term – i.e. 4 years. Sadly, the Appellate Court agreed. Additionally, the verdict awarded damages under the Act. But because the verdict was not clear if the damages were linked to the retaliatory count or the Whistleblower Count, the Appellate Court ruled that a new trial was necessary on damages. Hopefully Taylor’s lawyer[don’t know who he or she is but they did great work] will get another great verdict the second time.