There are several issues addressed in Honig v. Doe, which is the Supreme Court's only decision defining the limits of the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA), which is now called the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Under the EHA and the IDEA there were procedural safeguards established to ensure parental participation in decisions concerning the education of their children with disabilities and to provide administrative and judicial review of any decisions with which those parents disagree. One of the safeguards was the stay put provision, directing that a child with disabilities "shall remain in [his or her] then current educational placement" prior to the completion of review, unless the parents and state/local educational agencies agree. (20 U.S.C.S. § 1415(e)(3)). The plaintiff students maintained that adverse actions against the students, which removed them from school before the completion of any review proceedings, violated the stay put provisions of the IDEA, which provided that children with disabilities were to remain in their existing educational placements until the review proceedings were complete.
First, it looked at whether a student who was no longer eligible under the IDEA could maintain suit. Next, it looked at whether there was a dangerousness exception in the IDEA; in other words, could state or local school officials unilaterally exclude a child with a disability from the classroom for dangerous or disruptive behavior that is the result of the underlying disability. Third, the Court determined whether a district court may, in the exercise of its equitable powers, order a State to provide educational services directly to students with disabilities if a local agency fails to do so.
Rights of School Officials to Seek Injunctive Relief vs. The Stay Put Provision (3 pages)
Before understanding the reasoning behind the Court's decisions, it is important to look at the underlying facts in the case. "John Doe" was a student with emotional disturbances who had anger and impulse control issues. In November 1980, at age 17, Doe responded to a fellow student's taunts by choking a student and kicking out a school window as he was escorted to the principal's office. Doe was suspended for 5 days, and on his fifth day of suspension the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Student Placement Committee notified his mother that it was recommending expulsion and that he would be suspended indefinitely until his expulsion was completed. Doe filed suit and the federal trial court granted his request for a preliminary injunction ordering school officials to return him to his existing placement until his review was completed. "Jack Smith" was another student with emotional disturbances who was eligible under IDEA. Smith's disability led him to become verbally hostile and aggressive when under stress. This resulted in him engaging in an escalating level of disruptive behavior including: stealing, extorting money, and sexual behavior towards fellow students. He was suspended for 5 days, scheduled for an expulsion hearing, and his suspension was extended until final disposition of the issue. Smith intervened in Doe's suit.
Looking at the underlying circumstances in these cases, one would imagine that a court decision requiring the school districts to keep these students in place pending the resolution of their placement decisions would be an unnecessary risk for the school districts who have to be careful of the rights and safety of all of their students, not simply the students who have disabilities. However, a more careful examination of the circumstances faced by these children helps explain their roles as victims and not just perpetrators in the incidents that have occurred. For example, while Doe was physically aggressive to another student, it is important to note that the aggression did not occur without significant provocation. Doe had been bullied because of physical abnormalities, speech difficulties, and poor hygiene habits since the first grade. He experienced deterioration in his social skills. The student that Doe choked was taunting Doe prior to the assault, and Doe responded in the way anticipated by his disability, with explosive violence. Smith had been identified as emotionally disturbed since the second grade, and was unable to control his outbursts. He had been abused physically and emotionally abused, he had hyperactivity and low self-esteem. His suspension was preceeded by other bad conduct, but was based upon lewd comments to a fellow student. Only Smith's case remained justiciable at the time of the suit. Furthermore, because Smith's condition is what rendered him unable to control his behavior and conform to social norms, the likelihood that he would face additional violations of IDEA were significant. The possible consequences of indefinite periods of suspension while proceedings were being completed could result in student being deprived of his education.
However, the Court seemed to engage in some significant denial when trying to balance the interests of the student and the interests of the school district. The Court stated that the misconduct of preadolescent children with emotional disturbances or other disabilities would not generally be so threatening that suspensions or expulsions are the only way to ensure the safety of other children in the classroom. While that conclusion may have been warranted by the underlying issues in the lawsuit, it does not necessarily reflect the reality of modern special education law. Even preadolescent children can pose a significant risk to classmates and educators if they engage in violent behavior.
Of course, the Court could not have considered the risk to other children, even if it had taken that risk more seriously. As the Court stated, § 1415(e)(3) containes unequivocal language. Unless the family and the state or local educational agency can all agree on an alternative placement, a child receiving services under IDEA shall remain in the current educational placement pending the resolution of the preceding. The school district wanted the Court to create a dangerousness exception to the stay put provision.
The school district took the position that the stay-put provision is illogical if one assumes that the law requires the school district to return violent or dangerous students to the school while EHA/IDEA proceedings run their course. The Court unequivocally disagreed. It believed that Congress' intent was to strip the schools of the unilateral authority that they had to exclude students with disabilities for any reason prior to passage of the IDEA. The whole intention of the stay put provision was to make sure that students with disabilities could not be removed without parental permission. The Court pointed out that the EHA was passed in response to finding out that 1 in 8 children with disabilities were excluded from classes by their local school districts. Parents could agree to interim placements pending resolution of the outcome, but there is simply no emergency exception for dangerous students. Moreover, school districts were not powerless against dangerous students; the school districts could use the normal procedures for dangerous children to discipline children serviced by the EHA or IDEA, including temporary suspensions of up to 10 school days. To the court, this 10 day period was sufficient to provide the student with at cooling down period and to give the school officials time to convince the parents to agree to an interim placement or seek court relief when parents are unwilling to agree to an interim placement. The fact that judicial relief was illusory was non-persuasive, because it held that the exhaustion requirements would not be necessary for schools facing emergency scenarios. IDEA did not prohibit courts from ordering the exclusion of those children with disabilities who presented such significant danger of danger or disruption that they impeded the school's ability to protect or educate other students.
Stay Put Provision
It is impossible to evaluate the Supreme Court's decision in Honig v. Doe without examining the Congressional reasoning behind the stay put provision. Furthermore, it is impossible to evaluate intent without looking at the history of prior litigation and what it revealed about the condition of educational services for children with disabilities prior to that time. According to Jennifer Parker, "Members of the Ninety-fourth United States Congress took notice of the facts and rulings in PARC and Mills. Congressional response included an investigation into the status of all children with disabilities…The investigation yielded valuable data about the numbers of children not receiving an appropriate education. Congress found that, out of 8 million children with disabilities, only 3.9 million were receiving appropriate education. 4.25 million children were either receiving no education or inappropriate education" (Parker, 2009).
The implications of this lack of appropriate educational service went far beyond the implications for the individual student and had a society-wide impact. "The long-range implications of these statistics are that public agencies and taxpayers will spend billions of dollars over the lifetimes of these individuals to maintain such persons as dependents…With proper education services, many would be able to become productive citizens, contributing to society instead of being forced to remain burdens…It should not & #8230; be necessary for parents throughout the country to continue utilizing the courts o…