Summary of Goss v. Lopez
Citation: 419 U.S. 565 (1975)
Relevant Facts: Dwight Lopez was one of several students suspended for a period of 10 days from an Ohio public school for misconduct. Lopez and the other plaintiffs brought suit against Principal Goss and others, claiming that their suspensions without a hearing violated their Due Process rights. Under Ohio law, school principals were allowed to suspend students for up to ten days or expel them. While the statute required principals to inform the student’s parents within twenty-four hours of any such disciplinary action and give the grounds for punishment, no formal hearing was required (in the event of expulsion, students could appeal to the board of education, but not review process was envisioned for suspensions.). A three-judge panel at the District Court ruled in favor of Lopez and the other suspended students, concluding that suspension without a hearing violated the due process rights of students. Principal Goss and the other defendants appealed.
Issue: Does Due Process require that public school students be afforded a hearing or review prior to their suspension?
Holding: Yes, public education for students creates important liberty interests and property rights, and administrators may not suspend those rights without meaningful review. Due Process requires, at a minimum, that students be presented with the evidence against them and afforded the opportunity to contest and disciplinary determinations, generally before punishments are enforced but shortly thereafter in appropriate circumstances.
Reasoning: Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court for a five Justice majority. As he explained, the State of Ohio – like other states – had chosen to create a system of free, public education for all students. Having done so, the state created a general entitlement that bestowed upon students a valuable property interest that cannot be subsequently revoked absent fair procedures for determining if and when misconduct justifies temporary or permanent revocation of that right. The right to a free, public education, like other property rights, is of significant value and the State violates a student’s rights by taking away that property interests without the opportunity for the student to formally present his version of the facts and appropriate defenses. As the majority explained, the right to education is both important and valuable, and disciplinary proceedings that diminish that right not only trample important property rights but have potentially far-reaching consequences. For example, a student subjected to suspension may well have trouble finding employment with serious disciplinary problems recorded in his school records. The ten day suspension here was more than a de minimis deprivation, instead denying important liberty interests the protection of which requires basic due process protections. According to the Court, due process requires that students subject to potential suspension be provided with written notice of the allegations against him, the evidence supporting the allegations, and the opportunity to challenge any punishment determination. In most cases, the presentation of evidence and opportunity to defend should precede imposition of punishment, except in cases where an advance hearing is not feasible or the school contends that the student’s continued presence creates an immediate risk of danger or disruption sufficient to justify immediate removal. In cases of immediate removal, the Court explained that a hearing should be held as soon as possible to safeguard the due process rights of students in such circumstances. The Court reiterated earlier cases clearly establishing that students do not shed their constitutional protections at the schoolhouse gates; rather, students are necessarily entitled to less constitutional protections than members of the public generally while certain basic, guaranteed protections are required consistent with their constitutional rights.
Dissent: Justice Powell dissented, joined by Chief Justice Burger, Justice Blackmun, and Justice Rehnquist. Writing for the dissenters, Justice Powell, explained that the majority fashioned for themselves a new role in supervising public education, a role the dissenters believed was best left to teachers, officials, and administrators in the schools themselves. Justice Powell argued that to the extent suspensions deprived students of a vested right, the property interests and liberty concerns implicated were too insubstantial to suggest creation of a constitutional procedure for their protection. Furthermore, the dissenters argued that Ohio had created the right to public education generally, not the right to remain in an educational environment free from discipline or suspension. Justice Powell found that the required notice satisfied the state’s due process obligations, and that the rule announced by the majority invited Courts to oversee routine matters of classroom discipline as schools necessarily sought to maintain order and preserve the proper classroom environment. In conclusion, Justice Powell argued that the new rule, and accompanying constitutional protections, may well invite litigation over matters as far-reaching as grading of assignments, participation in extracurricular activities, and selection of course work.
Conclusion: Public school students may not be suspended or otherwise seriously disciplined without a required hearing in order to comport with due process. The provision of free, public education creates a valuable property and liberty interest in students, one that cannot be stripped or limited absent basic due process protections.