Due Process for Students in essay

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Supp. 749 (S.D. Miss1987), the court held that "The primary thrust of the educational process is classroom instruction; therefore minimum due process procedures may be required if an exclusion from the classroom would effectively deprive the student of instruction and the opportunity to learn. 676 F. Supp. 749, 752.

Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977).

In Ingraham, petitioner students filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981-1988, seeking damages and injunctive and declaratory relief against respondent school officials, alleging that petitioners had been subjected to corporal punishment in violation of their constitutional rights. At the time, a Florida statute authorized corporal punishment after a teacher consulted with a principal or other supervisor, as long as the corporal punishment was not degrading or unduly severe. Furthermore, the School Board had a regulation governing the application of corporal punishment, limiting it to swats with a wooden paddle, applied to a student's buttocks. The evidence revealed that the petitioners received exceptionally harsh corporal punishment. The petitioners alleged that this corporal punishment violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court disagreed with the petitioners' assertions. The Court found that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment was directed at people convicted of crimes and did not apply to students in public schools. Moreover, the Court refused to strip the Eighth Amendment of its historical context and extend it to public school disciplinary practices. The Court held that:

The openness of the public school and its supervision by the community afford significant safeguards against the kinds of abuses from which the Eighth Amendment protects the prisoner. In virtually every community where corporal punishment is permitted in the schools, these safeguards are reinforced by the legal constraints of the common law. Public school teachers and administrators are privileged at common law to inflict only such corporal punishment as is reasonably necessary for the proper education and discipline of the child; any punishment going beyond the privilege may result in both civil and criminal liability. As long as the schools are open to public scrutiny, there is no reason to believe that the common-law constraints will not effectively remedy and deter excesses such as those alleged in this case. 430 U.S. 651, 670.

Furthermore, the Court specifically addressed whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required notice and hearing prior to imposition of corporal punishment. The Court did find that students have a liberty interest in being free from bodily restraint or appreciable physical pain. Obviously, corporal punishment, a form of physical punishment, may place liberty at risk. As a result, the Court found that "corporal punishment in public schools implicates a constitutionally protected liberty interest, but [held] that the traditional common-law remedies are fully adequate to afford due process" 430 U.S. 651, 672.

In fact, the common-law tradition of permitting corporal punishment played a significant role in the Court's decision. The Court held that:

Were it not for the common-law privilege permitting teachers to inflict reasonable corporal punishment on children in their care, and the availability of the traditional remedies for abuse, the case for requiring advance procedural safeguards would be strong indeed. But here we deal with a punishment - paddling - within that tradition, and the question is whether the common-law remedies are adequate to afford due process. 430 U.S. 651, 674-5.

As a result, the Court examined the competing interests involved in the case. First, the Court found that "child's liberty interest in avoiding corporal punishment while in the care of public school authorities is subject to historical limitations" 430 U.S. 651, 675. In fact, under the common law, a child could not recover damages from a teacher giving moderate physical correction. Furthermore, corporal punishment was still legal in most states at that time. Therefore, "under that longstanding accommodation of interests, there can be no deprivation of substantive rights as long as disciplinary corporal punishment is within the limits of the common-law privilege" 430 U.S. 651, 676.

However, the Court did recognize that corporal punishment contained an inherent risk of an unlawful intrusion on a child's liberty. Therefore, it looked at the procedural safeguards that Florida had in place to ensure that children were not wrongfully punished and to provide for resolution of disputed questions of justification. It found that Florida had sufficient safeguards to protect the student's liberty interest:

Under Florida law the teacher and principal of the school decide in the first instance whether corporal punishment is reasonably necessary under the circumstances in order to discipline a child who has misbehaved. But they must exercise prudence and restraint. For Florida has preserved the traditional judicial proceedings for determining whether the punishment was justified. If the punishment inflicted is later found to have been excessive - not reasonably believed at the time to be necessary for the child's discipline or training - the school authorities inflicting it may be held liable in damages to the child and, if malice is shown, they may be subject to criminal penalties. 430 U.S. 651, 676-7.

Even the fact that the students involved in the dispute alleged abuse, the Court found that such abuse was not the norm. In addition, it found that the risk of a wrongful punishment was small because paddlings were generally given in response to teacher-observed behavior. 430 U.S. 651, 677-8.

Barnard v. Inhabitants of Shelburne, 216 Mass. 19 (1913).

In Barnard, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was asked to determine whether a student was entitled to a hearing before being excluded on academic grounds. The Barnard court was the first court to clarify the difference between academic and disciplinary procedures. In fact, the Barnard court found that disciplinary cases had no application to academic cases. According to that court, "Misconduct is a very different matter from failure to attain a standard of excellence in studies. A determination as to the fact involves investigation of a quite different kind. A public hearing may be regarded as helpful to the ascertainment of misconduct and useless or harmful in finding out the truth as to scholarship" 216 Mass. 19, 22-3.

While it was a state court decision and limited to Massachusetts, the Barnard decision sent a signal that academics and disciplinary matters would not receive the same due process protection.

Board of Curators of the University of Missouri et al. v. Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78 (1978).

In Horowitz, the respondent a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Medical School was dismissed from the school. Several faculty members had complained of Horowitz's performance during her pediatrics rotation as a medical student; as a result, the Council of Evaluation recommended that she go to her final year on probation. Faculty continued to be dissatisfied with Horowitz's performance, and recommended that she be dropped as a student if she failed to make a radical improvement. Horowitz was allowed to take examinations as a form of appeal, but the majority of the examining physicians failed to recommend that she be allowed to graduate on schedule. When Horowitz failed to improve, the Council decided to drop her as a student, and its decision was approved by the Coordinating Committee and the Dean. Horowitz brought an action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that she had not been accorded due process prior to her dismissal. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, which concluded that Horowitz had been all rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision.

The Court, building on the earlier decision in Barnard, determined that school officials do not have to grant a hearing before excluding a student on academic grounds. The Court held that a "school is an academic institution, not a courtroom or administrative hearing room" 435 U.S. 78, 88. The Court distinguished its decision from the Goss decision by highlighting the differences between academic evaluations and disciplinary determinations:

Academic evaluations of a student, in contrast to disciplinary determinations, bear little resemblance to the judicial and administrative factfinding proceedings to which we have traditionally attached a full-hearing requirement. In Goss, the school's decision to suspend the students rested on factual conclusions that the individual students had participated in demonstrations that had disrupted classes, attacked a police officer, or caused physical damage to school property. The requirement of a hearing, where the student could present his side of the factual issue, could under such circumstances "provide a meaningful hedge against erroneous action." The decision to dismiss respondent, by comparison, rested on the academic judgment of school officials that she did not have the necessary clinical ability to perform adequately as a medical doctor and was making insufficient progress toward that goal. Such a judgment is by its nature more subjective and evaluative than the typical factual questions presented in the average disciplinary decision. Like the decision of an individual professor as to the proper grade for a student in his course, the determination whether to dismiss a student for academic reasons requires an…[continue]

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