|Goss v. Lopez
[ White ]
[ Powell ]
Goss v. Lopez
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
MR. JUSTICE POWELL, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, dissenting.
The Court today invalidates an Ohio statute that permits student suspensions from school without a hearing [p585] "for not more than ten days." [n1] The decision unnecessarily opens avenues for judicial intervention in the operation of our public schools that may affect adversely the quality of education. The Court holds for the first time that the federal courts, rather than educational officials and state legislatures, have the authority to determine the rules applicable to routine classroom discipline of children and teenagers in the public schools. It justifies this unprecedented intrusion into the process of elementary and secondary education by identifying a new constitutional right: the right of a student not to be suspended for as much as a single day without notice and a due process hearing either before or promptly following the suspension. [n2]
The Court's decision rests on the premise that, under Ohio law, education is a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, and therefore that any suspension requires notice and a hearing. [n3] In my view, a student's interest in education is [p586] not infringed by a suspension within the limited period prescribed by Ohio law. Moreover, to the extent that there may be some arguable infringement, it is too speculative, transitory, and insubstantial to justify imposition of a constitutional rule.
Although we held in San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 35 (1973), that education is not a right protected by the Constitution, Ohio has elected by statute to provide free education for all youths age six to 21, Ohio Rev.Code Ann. §§ 3313.48, 3313.64 (1972 and Supp. 1973), with children under 18 years of age being compelled to attend school. § 3321.01 et seq. State law, therefore, extends the right of free public school education to Ohio students in accordance with the education laws of that State. The right or entitlement to education so created is protected in a proper case by the Due Process Clause. See, e.g., Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564 (1972); Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 164 (1974) (POWELL, J., concurring). In my view, this is not such a case.
In identifying property interests subject to due process protections, the Court's past opinions make clear that these interests "are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law." Board of Regents v. Roth, supra, at 577 (emphasis supplied). The Ohio statute that creates the right to a "free" education also explicitly authorizes a principal to suspend a student for as much as 10 days. Ohio Rev.Code Ann. §§ 3313.48, 3313.64, 3313.66 (1972 and Supp. 1973). Thus, the very legislation which "defines" the "dimension" of the student's entitlement, while providing a right to education generally, does not establish this right free of discipline imposed in accord with Ohio law. Rather, the right is [p587] encompassed in the entire package of statutory provisions governing education in Ohio -- of which the power to suspend is one.
The Court thus disregards the basic structure of Ohio law in posturing this case as if Ohio had conferred an unqualified right to education, thereby compelling the school authorities to conform to due process procedures in imposing the most routine discipline. [n4]
But however one may define the entitlement to education provided by Ohio law, I would conclude that a deprivation of not more than 10 days' suspension from school, imposed as a routine disciplinary measure, does not assume constitutional dimensions. Contrary to the Court's assertion, our cases support, rather than "refute" appellants' [p588] argument that "the Due Process Clause . . . comes into play only when the State subjects a student to a ‘severe detriment or grievous loss.'" Ante at 575. Recently, the Court reiterated precisely this standard for analyzing due process claims:
Whether any procedural protections are due depends on the extent to which an individual will be "condemned to suffer grievous loss." Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 168 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring), quoted in Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 263 (1970).
Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972) (emphasis supplied). In Morrissey, we applied that standard to require due process procedures for parole revocation on the ground that revocation "inflicts a ‘grievous loss' on the parolee, and often on others." Id. at 482. See also Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. at 573 ("seriously damage" reputation and standing); Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539 (1971) ("important interests of the licensees"); Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, 379 (1971) ("significant property interest"). [n5]
The Ohio suspension statute allows no serious or significant [p589] infringement of education. It authorizes only a maximum suspension of eight school days, less than 5% of the normal 180-day school year. Absences of such limited duration will rarely affect a pupil's opportunity to learn or his scholastic performance. Indeed, the record in this case reflects no educational injury to appellees. Each completed the semester in which the suspension occurred and performed at least as well as he or she had in previous years. [n6] Despite the Court's unsupported speculation that a suspended student could be "seriously damage[d]" (ante at 575), there is no factual showing of any such damage to appellees.
The Court also relies on a perceived deprivation of "liberty" resulting from any suspension, arguing -- again without factual support in the record pertaining to these appellees -- that a suspension harms a student's reputation. In view of the Court's decision in Board of Regents v. Roth, supra, I would have thought that this argument was plainly untenable. Underscoring the need for "serious damage" to reputation, the Roth Court held that a nontenured teacher who is not rehired by a public university could not claim to suffer sufficient reputational injury to require constitutional protections. [n7] Surely a brief suspension is of less serious consequence to the reputation of a teenage student.
In prior decisions, this Court has explicitly recognized that school authorities must have broad discretionary authority [p590] in the daily operation of public schools. This includes wide latitude with respect to maintaining discipline and good order. Addressing this point specifically, the Court stated in Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 507 (1969):
[T]he Court has repeatedly emphasized the need for affirming the comprehensive authority of the States and of school officials, consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards, to prescribe and control conduct in the schools. [n8]
Such an approach properly recognizes the unique nature of public education and the correspondingly limited role of the judiciary in its supervision. In Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968), the Court stated:
By and large, public education in our Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities. Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.
The Court today turns its back on these precedents. It can hardly seriously be claimed that a school principal's decision to suspend a pupil for a single day would "directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values." Ibid.
Moreover, the Court ignores the experience of mankind, as well as the long history of our law, recognizing [p591] that there are differences which must be accommodated in determining the rights and duties of children as compared with those of adults. Examples of this distinction abound in our law: in contracts, in tort, in criminal law and procedure, in criminal sanctions and rehabilitation, and in the right to vote and to hold office. Until today, and except in the special context of the First Amendment issue in Tinker, the educational rights of children and teenagers in the elementary and secondary schools have not been analogized to the rights of adults or to those accorded college students. Even with respect to the First Amendment, the rights of children have not been regarded as "coextensive with those of adults." Tinker, supra, at 515 (STEWART, J., concurring).
I turn now to some of the considerations which support the Court's former view regarding the comprehensive authority of the States and school officials "to prescribe and control conduct in the schools." Id. at 507. Unlike the divergent and even sharp conflict of interests usually present where due process rights are asserted, the interests here implicated -- of the State through its schools and of the pupils -- are essentially congruent.
The State's interest, broadly put, is in the proper functioning of its public school system for the benefit of all pupils and the public generally. Few rulings would interfere more extensively in the daily functioning of schools than subjecting routine discipline to the formalities and judicial oversight of due process. Suspensions are one of the traditional means -- ranging from keeping a student after class to permanent expulsion -- used to maintain discipline in the schools. It is common knowledge that maintaining order and reasonable decorum [p592] in school buildings and classrooms is a major educational problem, and one which has increased significantly in magnitude in recent years. [n9] Often the teacher, in protecting the rights of other children to an education (if not his or their safety), is compelled to rely on the power to suspend.
The facts set forth in the margin [n10] leave little room for doubt as to the magnitude of the disciplinary problem in the public schools, or as to the extent of reliance upon the right to suspend. They also demonstrate that, if hearings were required for a substantial percentage of short-term suspensions, school authorities would have time to do little else.
The State's generalized interest in maintaining an orderly school system is not incompatible with the individual [p593] interest of the student. Education in any meaningful sense includes the inculcation of an understanding in each pupil of the necessity of rules and obedience thereto. This understanding is no less important than learning to read and write. One who does not comprehend the meaning and necessity of discipline is handicapped not merely in his education but throughout his subsequent life. In an age when the home and church play a diminishing role in shaping the character and value judgments of the young, a heavier responsibility falls upon the schools. When an immature student merits censure for his conduct, he is rendered a disservice if appropriate sanctions are not applied or if procedures for their application are so formalized as to invite a challenge to the teacher's authority [n11] -- an invitation which rebellious or even merely spirited teenagers are likely to accept.
The lesson of discipline is not merely a matter of the student's self-interest in the shaping of his own character and personality; it provides an early understanding of the relevance to the social compact of respect for the rights of others. The classroom is the laboratory in which this lesson of life is best learned. Mr. Justice Black summed it up:
School discipline, like parental discipline, is an integral and important part of training our children to be good citizens -- to be better citizens.
Tinker, 393 U.S. at 524 (dissenting opinion).
In assessing in constitutional terms the need to protect pupils from unfair minor discipline by school authorities, the Court ignores the commonality of interest of the State and pupils in the public school system. Rather, it thinks in traditional judicial terms of an adversary [p594] situation. To be sure, there will be the occasional pupil innocent of any rule infringement who is mistakenly suspended or whose infraction is too minor to justify suspension. But, while there is no evidence indicating the frequency of unjust suspensions, common sense suggests that they will not be numerous in relation to the total number, and that mistakes or injustices will usually be righted by informal means.
One of the more disturbing aspects of today's decision is its indiscriminate reliance upon the judiciary, and the adversary process, as the means of resolving many of the most routine problems arising in the classroom. In mandating due process procedures the Court misapprehends the reality of the normal teacher-pupil relationship. There is an ongoing relationship, one in which the teacher must occupy many roles -- educator, adviser, friend, and, at times, parent-substitute. [n12] It is rarely adversary in nature except with respect to the chronically disruptive or insubordinate pupil whom the teacher must be free to discipline without frustrating formalities. [n13] [p595]
The Ohio statute, providing as it does for due notice both to parents and the Board, is compatible with the teacher-pupil relationship and the informal resolution of mistaken disciplinary action. We have relied for generations upon the experience, good faith and dedication of those who staff our public schools, [n14] and the nonadversary means of airing grievances that always have been available to pupils and their parents. One would have thought before today's opinion that this informal method of resolving differences was more compatible with the interests of all concerned than resort to any constitutionalized procedure, however blandly it may be defined by the Court.
In my view, the constitutionalizing of routine classroom decisions not only represents a significant and unwise extension of the Due Process Clause, but it also was quite unnecessary in view of the safeguards prescribed by the Ohio statute. This is demonstrable from a comparison [p596] of what the Court mandates as required by due process with the protective procedures it finds constitutionally insufficient
The Ohio statute, limiting suspensions to not more than eight school days, requires written notice including the "reasons therefor" to the student's parents and to the Board of Education within 24 hours of any suspension. The Court only requires oral or written notice to the pupil, with no notice being required to the parents or the Board of Education. The mere fact of the statutory requirement is a deterrent against arbitrary action by the principal. The Board, usually elected by the people and sensitive to constituent relations, may be expected to identify a principal whose record of suspensions merits inquiry. In any event, parents placed on written notice may exercise their rights as constituents by going directly to the Board or a member thereof if dissatisfied with the principal's decision.
Nor does the Court's due process "hearing" appear to provide significantly more protection than that already available. The Court holds only that the principal must listen to the student's "version of the events," either before suspension or thereafter -- depending upon the circumstances. Ante at 583. Such a truncated "hearing" is likely to be considerably less meaningful than the opportunities for correcting mistakes already available to students and parents. Indeed, in this case all of the students and parents were offered an opportunity to attend a conference with school officials.
In its rush to mandate a constitutional rule, the Court appears to give no weight to the practical manner in which suspension problems normally would be worked out under Ohio law. [n15] One must doubt, then, whether [p597] the constitutionalization of the student-teacher relationship, with all of its attendant doctrinal and practical difficulties, will assure in any meaningful sense greater protection than that already afforded under Ohio law.
No one can foresee the ultimate frontiers of the new "thicket" the Court now enters. Today's ruling appears to sweep within the protected interest in education a multitude of discretionary decisions in the educational process. Teachers and other school authorities are required to make many decisions that may have serious consequences for the pupil. They must decide, for example, how to grade the student's work, whether a student passes or fails a course, [n16] whether he is to be promoted, whether he is required to take certain subjects, whether he may be excluded from interscholastic athletics [n17] or other extracurricular activities, whether he may be removed from one school and sent to another, whether he may be bused long distances when available schools are nearby, and whether he should be placed in a "general," "vocational," or "college-preparatory" track.
In these and many similar situations, claims of impairment of one's educational entitlement identical in principle to those before the Court today can be asserted with equal or greater justification. Likewise, in many of these situations, the pupil can advance the same types of speculative and subjective injury given critical weight in this case. The District Court, relying upon generalized opinion evidence, concluded that a suspended student may suffer psychological injury in one or more of [p598] the ways set forth in the margin below. [n18] The Court appears to adopt this rationale. See ante at 575.
It hardly need be said that, if a student, as a result of a day's suspension, suffers "a blow" to his "self esteem," "feels powerless," views "teachers with resentment," or feels "stigmatized by his teachers," identical psychological harms will flow from many other routine and necessary school decisions. The student who is given a failing grade, who is not promoted, who is excluded from certain extracurricular activities, who is assigned to a school reserved for children of less than average ability, or who is placed in the "vocational", rather than the "college preparatory," track, is unlikely to suffer any less psychological injury than if he were suspended for a day for a relatively minor infraction. [n19] [p599]
If, as seems apparent, the Court will now require due process procedures whenever such routine school decisions are challenged, the impact upon public education will be serious indeed. The discretion and Judgment of federal courts across the land often will be substituted for that of the 50 state legislatures, the 14,000 school boards, [n20] and the 2,000,000 [n21] teachers who heretofore have been responsible for the administration of the American public school system. If the Court perceives a rational and analytically sound distinction between the discretionary decision by school authorities to suspend a pupil for a brief period, and the types of discretionary school decisions described above, it would be prudent to articulate it in today's opinion. Otherwise, the federal courts should prepare themselves for a vast new role in society.
Not so long ago, state deprivations of the most significant forms of state largesse were not thought to require due process protection on the ground that the deprivation resulted only in the loss of a state-provided "benefit." E.g., Bailey v. Richardson, 86 U.S.App.D.C. 248, 182 F.2d 46 (1950), aff'd by an equally divided Court, 341 U.S. 918 (1951). In recent years the Court, wisely in my view, has rejected the "wooden distinction between ‘rights' and ‘privileges,'" Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. at 571, and looked instead to the significance of the state-created or state-enforced right and to [p600] the substantiality of the alleged deprivation. Today's opinion appears to abandon this reasonable approach by holding, in effect, that government infringement of any interest to which a person is entitled, no matter what the interest or how inconsequential the infringement, requires constitutional protection. As it is difficult to think of any less consequential infringement than suspension of a junior high school student for a single day, it is equally difficult to perceive any principled limit to the new reach of procedural due process. [n22]
1. The Ohio statute, Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 3313.66 (1972), actually is a limitation on the time-honored practice of school authorities themselves determining the appropriate duration of suspensions. The statute allows the superintendent or principal of a public school to suspend a pupil "for not more than ten days . . ." (italics supplied); and requires notification to the parent or guardian in writing within 24 hours of any suspension.
2. Section 3313.66 also provides authority for the expulsion of pupils, but requires a hearing thereon by the school board upon request of a parent or guardian. The rights of pupils expelled are not involved in this case, which concerns only the limited discretion of school authorities to suspend for not more than 10 days. Expulsion, usually resulting at least in loss of a school year or semester is an incomparably more serious matter than the brief suspension, traditionally used as the principal sanction for enforcing routine discipline. The Ohio statute recognizes this distinction.
3. The Court speaks of "exclusion from the educational process for more than a trivial period . . . ," ante at 576, but its opinion makes clear that even one day's suspension invokes the constitutional procedure mandated today.
4. The Court apparently reads into Ohio law by implication a qualification that suspensions may be imposed only for "cause," thereby analogizing this case to the civil service laws considered in Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134 (1974). To be sure, one may assume that pupils are not suspended at the whim or caprice of the school official, and the statute does provide for notice of the suspension with the "reasons therefor." But the same statute draws a sharp distinction between suspension and the far more drastic sanction of expulsion. A hearing is required only for the latter. To follow the Court's analysis, one must conclude that the legislature nevertheless intended -- without saying so -- that suspension also is of such consequence that it may be imposed only for causes which can be justified at a hearing. The unsoundness of reading this sort of requirement into the statute is apparent from a comparison with Arnett. In that case, Congress expressly provided that nonprobationary federal employees should be discharged only for "cause." This requirement reflected congressional recognition of the seriousness of discharging such employees. There simply is no analogy between termination of nonprobationary employment of a civil service employee and the suspension of a public school pupil for not more than 10 days. Even if the Court is correct in implying some concept of justifiable cause in the Ohio procedure, it could hardly be stretched to the constitutional proportions found present in Arnett.
5. Indeed, the Court itself quotes from a portion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter's concurrence in Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 171 (1951), which explicitly refers to "a person in jeopardy of serious loss." See ante at 580 (emphasis supplied).
Nor is the "de minimis" standard referred to by the Court relevant in this case. That standard was first stated by Mr. Justice Harlan in a concurring opinion in Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337, 342 (1969), and then quoted in a footnote to the Court's opinion in Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 90 n. 21 (1972). Both Sniadach and Fuentes, however, involved resolution of property disputes between two private parties claiming an interest in the same property. Neither case pertained to an interest conferred by the State.
6. 2 App. 163-171 (testimony of Norval Goss, Director of Pupil Personnel). See opinion of the three-judge court, 372 F.Supp. 1279, 1291 (SD Ohio 1973).
7. See also Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 437 (1971), quoting the "grievous loss" standard first articulated in Anti-Fascist Committee v. McGrath, supra.
8. In dissent on the First Amendment issue, Mr. Justice Harlan recognized the Court's basic agreement on the limited role of the judiciary in overseeing school disciplinary decisions:
I am reluctant to believe that there is any disagreement between the majority and myself on the proposition that school officials should be accorded the widest authority in maintaining discipline and good order in their institutions.
393 U.S. at 526.
9. See generally S. Bailey, Disruption in Urban Secondary Schools (1970), which summarizes some of the recent surveys on school disruption. A Syracuse University study; for example, found that 85% of the schools responding reported some type of significant disruption in the years 1967-1970.
10. An amicus brief filed by the Children's Defense Fund states that, at least 10% of the junior and senior high school students in the States sampled were suspended one or more times in the 1972-1973 school year. The data on which this conclusion rests were obtained from an extensive survey prepared by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Children's Defense Fund reviewed the suspension data for five States -- Arkansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Carolina.
Likewise, an amicus brief submitted by several school associations in Ohio indicates that the number of suspensions is significant: in 1972-1973, 4,054 students out of a school enrollment of 81,007 were suspended in Cincinnati; 7,352 of 57,000 students were suspended in Akron; and 14,598 of 142,053 students were suspended in Cleveland. See also the Office of Civil Rights Survey, supra, finding that approximately 20,000 students in New York City, 12,000 in Cleveland, 9,000 in Houston, and 9,000 in Memphis were suspended at least once during the 1972-1973 school year. Even these figures are probably somewhat conservative since some schools did not reply to the survey.
11. See generally J. Dobson, Dare to Discipline (1970).
12. The role of the teacher in our society historically has been an honored and respected one, rooted in the experience of decades that has left for most of us warm memories of our teachers, especially those of the formative years of primary and secondary education.
13. In this regard, the relationship between a student and teacher is manifestly different from that between a welfare administrator and a recipient (see Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970)), a motor vehicle department and a driver (see Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971)), a debtor and a creditor (see Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., supra; Fuentes v. Shevin, supra; Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Co., 416 U.S. 600 (1974)), a parole officer and a parolee (see Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972)), or even an employer and an employee (see Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134 (1974)). In many of these noneducation settings there is -- for purposes of this analysis -- a "faceless" administrator dealing with an equally "faceless" recipient of some form of government benefit or license; in others, such as the garnishment and repossession cases, there is a conflict of interest relationship. Our public school system, however, is premised on the belief that teachers and pupils should not be "faceless" to each other. Nor does the educational relationship present a typical "conflict of interest." Rather, the relationship traditionally is marked by a coincidence of interests.
Yet the Court, relying on cases such as Sniadach and Fuentes, apparently views the classroom of teenagers as comparable to the competitive and adversary environment of the adult, commercial world.
14. A traditional factor in any due process analysis is "the protection implicit in the office of the functionary whose conduct is challenged. . . ." Anti-Fascist Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. at 163 (Frankfurter, J., concurring). In the public school setting, there is a high degree of such protection, since a teacher has responsibility for, and a commitment to, his pupils that is absent in other due process contexts.
15. The Court itself recognizes that the requirements it imposes are, "if anything, less than a fair-minded school principal would impose upon himself in order to avoid unfair suspensions." Ante at 583.
16. See Connelly v. University of Vermont, 244 F.Supp. 156 (Vt.1956).
17. See Kelley v. Metropolitan County Board of Education of Nashville, 293 F.Supp. 485 (MD Tenn.1968).
18. The psychological injuries so perceived were as follows:
1. The suspension is a blow to the student's self-esteem.
2. The student feels powerless and helpless.
3. The student views school authorities and teachers with resentment, suspicion and fear.
4. The student learns withdrawal as a mode of problem solving.
5. The student has little perception of the reasons for the suspension. He does not know what offending acts he committed.
6. The student is stigmatized by his teachers and school administrators as a deviant. They expect the student to be a troublemaker in the future.
372 F.Supp. at 1292.
19. There is, no doubt, a school of modern psychological or psychiatric persuasion that maintains that any discipline of the young is detrimental. Whatever one may think of the wisdom of this unproved theory, it hardly affords dependable support for a constitutional decision. Moreover, even the theory's proponents would concede that the magnitude of injury depends primarily upon the individual child or teenager. A classroom reprimand by the teacher may be more traumatic to the shy, timid introvert than expulsion would be to the aggressive, rebellious extrovert. In my view, we tend to lose our sense of perspective and proportion in a case of this kind. For average, normal children -- the vast majority -- suspension for a few days is simply not a detriment; it is a commonplace occurrence, with some 105 of all students being suspended; it leaves no scars; affects no reputations; indeed, it often may be viewed by the young as a badge of some distinction and a welcome holiday.
20. This estimate was supplied by the National School Board Association, Washington, D.C.
21. See U.S. Office of Education, Elementary and Secondary Public School Statistics, 1972-1973.
22. Some half dozen years ago, the Court extended First Amendment rights under limited circumstances to public school pupils. Mr. Justice Black, dissenting, viewed the decision as ushering in
an entirely new era in which the power to control pupils by the elected "officials of state supported public schools" . . . is in ultimate effect transferred to the Supreme Court.393 U.S. 503, 515 (1969). There were some who thought Mr. Justice Black was unduly concerned. But his prophecy is now being fulfilled. In the few years since Tinker, there have been literally hundreds of cases by schoolchildren alleging violation of their constitutional rights. This flood of litigation, between pupils and school authorities, was triggered by a narrowly written First Amendment opinion which I could well have joined on its facts. One can only speculate as to the extent to which public education will be disrupted by giving every schoolchild the power to contest in court any decision made by his teacher which arguably infringes the state-conferred right to education.