Due Process Clause Liberty Interests of Board Member
During the winter of 2015, school board member Claudia Manley got into a verbal altercation with a student who was leafletting for Manley’s political opponents outside a high school play. Manley insisted the student’s leafletting violated school board policy, and the student alleged that Manley bullied her. After an investigation, Manley was found to have violated a board policy calling for “mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct” at school events and received a formal warning for violating board policy and overstepping her authority in attempting to unilaterally enforce the district’s leafletting policy. While the investigation was unfolding, Manley’s lawsuit evolved into a federal suit claiming that the district violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution because its investigation deprived Manley of the following three alleged liberty interests: 1) a feeling of fair-dealing on the part of the government; 2) mental and emotional well-being; and 3) entitlement to processes mandated by the State and the district. The allegations were unsuccessful before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (trial court) and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (appellate court). Stating that “American politics is not for the thin-skinned, even, or perhaps especially, at the local level,” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that none of Manley’s alleged liberty interests were constitutionally recognized, and Manley’s federal case was dismissed. This case illustrates the importance of board members: a) respecting the board-superintendent relationship; and b) empowering the superintendent to enforce board policies (instead of attempting to unilaterally enforce board policies, because board members have no legal authority as individuals (105 ILCS 5/10-16.5)). IASB’s Foundational Principles of Effective Governance and PRESS sample policy 2:130, Board-Superintendent Relationship, provide further information about the complementary roles of the board and superintendent. PRESS sample policy 2:80, Oath of Office provides information about the legal authority of individual board members. Last, this case also serves as a reminder that board members, like district employees and agents, may be subject to complaints of improper conduct toward students under various board policies, such as PRESS sample policies 2:260, Uniform Grievance Procedure, 7:20, Harassment of Students Prohibited, and 7:180, Prevention of and Response to Bullying, Intimidation, and Harassment.