SPRINGFIELD – A lawsuit involving the hiring of a convicted child molester as a teacher should not have been dismissed against the McLean County Unit 5 school district, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a divided opinion, the high court returned the case involving former teacher Jon White to Champaign County court, suggesting that the Normal-based school district may have had a duty to inform Urbana school officials about White’s job history.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two Urbana students, attempts to hold Unit 5 accountable for allegedly allowing White to obtain a teaching job in Urbana by omitting information about allegations that he’d sexually molested girls at Colene Hoose Elementary School in 2005.

“It is not an undue burden to require an employer to accurately complete an employment form,” Justice Anne M. Burke wrote in the majority opinion. She was joined by Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, and Justices Robert Thomas and Charles Freeman.

Justice Rita Garman concurred with the majority in part, but dissented in part. Justices Lloyd Karmeier and Mary Jane Theis dissented, saying the majority has created a new precedence by recognizing the concept of “passing” a teacher.

The lawsuit defines “passing” as a school district’s conduct in passing a teacher to another district even thought they know the teacher has committed teacher-on-student sexual harassment or abuse.

“In the end, the majority reaches a decision which may well be popular, given the facts and circumstances of this case and a laudable desire to protect children, but one that is not well-grounded,” Karmeier wrote.

Attorneys for both sides could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday. But, the decision marks a victory for the families of Urbana students who say Unit 5 employees are guilty of misconduct by failing to make Urbana officials aware of White's behavior.

They say Unit 5 had an obligation to report White to authorities under the state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act and to pass along any information about a teacher like White if he's being hired elsewhere.

The Fourth District Appellate Court earlier agreed with the families and said the case should not have been dismissed at the county level.

In arguments before the court in January, attorneys for Unit 5 argued school officials in Urbana never contacted Unit 5 before hiring White, who had been suspended for 35 of 180 previous school days in 2005 because of the sexual assault allegations.

Attorneys said Unit 5 could not warn Urbana because there was no contact between the two districts until after White had already been hired in Urbana.

White is behind bars at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center. His current discharge date is 2041.

This story will be updated.

(Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043)

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