Changes Coming to FOIA and Teacher Evaluations

 January 13, 2010

Senate Bill 315

By the time you read this, Senate Bill 315 may have been passed by both houses on its way to Governor Quinn.  The bill clarifies the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with respect to the disclosure of performance evaluations and makes substantive changes to the requirements of teacher and principal evaluations under the School Code.  It is expected to be quickly signed into law to help the State’s application for Race to the Top funds.

FOIA

Under recent changes to FOIA, personnel file documents, including performance evaluations, are no longer shielded from disclosure.  In response to concerns from teachers and administrators over the potential negative ramifications of releasing performance evaluations, Senate Bill 315 adds a new Article 24A-7.1 to the School Code.  The new Article states that disclosure of teacher, principal and superintendent performance evaluations is prohibited, unless otherwise authorized by the School Code.  This addition will allow school districts to invoke §7(1)(a) of FOIA (exempting information specifically prohibited from disclosure under federal or state law) in response to FOIA requests for teacher, principal, or superintendent evaluations.

Please note that the prohibition,  on its face,  relates only to teacher,  principal and superintendent evaluations.  Unless contrary guidance is issued by the Attorney General’s office, it appears that the performance evaluations of other administrators and non-certificated employees remain subject to release under FOIA.

Teacher Evaluations

Senate Bill 315 makes several changes to teacher and principal evaluations.  Some of those changes, such as incorporating student growth measures into evaluation plans, are contingent on receipt of Race to the Top funding, or on the state providing adequate funding if Race to the Top funds are not awarded to Illinois. However, the following changes are mandatory regardless of Race to the Top or state funding:

  •  Changing evaluation ratings to “Excellent”, “Proficient”, “Needs Improvement” and “Unsatisfactory”;
  •  Allowing peer evaluation, subject to union agreement;
  • Providing professional development plans for teachers rated “Needs Improvement”;
  • Providing for remediation periods of shorter than 90 days, if permitted by a collective bargaining agreement;
  • During remediation, replacing evaluations every 30 school days with one midpoint evaluation and one final evaluation; and,
  • Dismissal if following remediation the teacher does not achieve a rating of “Proficient” or “Excellent”.

The bill also provides changes to the evaluation system for principals.  One notable change is that the due date for principal evaluations is pushed back from February 1 to March 1.  These changes must be made in the evaluation process by September 1, 2012.   Senate Bill 315 will be effective immediately upon becoming law.  Please contact us with any questions or concerns you may have about this, or any other, pending legislation.