Young people required by compulsory attendance laws to attend school do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. The authority possessed by the state to prescribe and enforce standards of conduct in its schools although very broad, must be exercised consistently with constitutional safeguards. Among other things, the state is constrained to recognize a student's legitimate entitlement to a public education as a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and which may not be taken away for misconduct without adherence to the minimum procedures required by that clause.
Ohio law provided for a free education and compulsory school attendance of youngsters. Although § 3313.66 gave certain procedural rights to those students facing expulsion, no such procedures were provided for students facing suspensions of up to 10 days in cases of misconduct. After each of them were suspended without a prior hearing, plaintiff students brought a class action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court determined that the statutory scheme violated the students' procedural due process rights and defendant school officials appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
Did the school’s procedures of suspending students without prior hearing violate the students’ procedural due process rights?
The Court ruled that the students had protected liberty interests in a public education that could not be taken away by suspension without the minimal procedural safeguards of notice and an opportunity to be heard, flexibly applied to the given situation. Students did not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door and the Fourteenth Amendment forbid such arbitrary deprivations of liberty as unilateral suspensions of up to 10 days without notice and hearing. Rudimentary due process was required to ensure fairness in disciplinary truth-seeking determinations.