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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Student’s Choking Claim Doesn’t Support Firing

(CN) - Unsubstantiated claims that a Chicago teacher choked a disobedient fourth grader should not have led to the teacher's firing, an Illinois appeals court ruled.

After 20 years in the Chicago school system, Sharon Kimble was accused in 2008 of choking J.W., a 10-year-old student in the gifted class at Parkside Academy.

The Department of Children and Family Services determined that the allegations were unfounded, but the Chicago school system fired Kimble for her alleged use of corporal punishment.

J.W. claimed that Kimble chocked him several days after she pulled him out of a line for gym class. He also said that Kimble grabbed him by the neck and a pushed him into the counselor's office after pulling him out of line.

Kimble denied the chocking and neck-grabbing allegations, admitting only to pulling the boy out of the line. She said he had been ignoring her directions that he could not participate in gym class because of an incomplete assignment.

The dismissal charges said Kimble hurt the boy's eye on the wooden border of the wall during the first incident, and that Kimble had incited other student to "scream at" and "ridicule" J.W. for a week after the second incident.

J.W. did not appear at the dismissal hearing, but principal Dorothy Thompson, counselor Cari Rohe and school-board investigator Kenneth Wiggins all testified to his statements.

The hearing officer determined that Kimble should be fired, and the Chicago school board followed that recommendation.

Though a Cook County judge affirmed Kimble's termination, she had more success this summer with the First District Illinois Court of Appeals.

"None of the witnesses present at the hearing observed the entirety of either the 'push' or the 'choke,'" Presiding Justice Robert Gordon wrote for a three-member panel. "Thus, without J.W.'s testimony, the remaining evidence - plaintiff's, Rohe's and Thompson's testimony - is clearly insufficient to support plaintiff's dismissal."

It violated Kimble's due-process rights in denying her the chance to cross-examine J.W., "a witness whose testimony was indispensable to the outcome of a hearing in which her constitutionally protected interest in continued employment was at stake," the ruling states.

"The only other evidence of the incidents considered by the board was two witnesses who observed the student entering a room quickly and wearing a wrinkled shirt, respectively; the teacher denies the conduct and testified to only taking the student's hand to remove him from the class line," Gordon wrote.

The July 18 ruling reverses the board's dismissal of Kimble from her employment.

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