Wood v. Strickland, 95 S.Ct. 992 (1975)


In Wood v. Strickland, the Supreme Court held that a school board member, or public official, is not immune from liability for monetary damages under federal statutes if the official knew or reasonably should have known that the action taken by the official within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the person affected, or unless the official took the action with the malicious intention to cause a deprivation of constitutional rights or other injury to the person.


Damages may generally be awarded only when the official has acted with such an impermissible motivation or with such disregard of clearly established constitutional rights that his action could not reasonably be characterized as being in good faith.


Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 102 S.Ct. 2727 (1982)


This particular case modified Wood v. Strickland, setting forth that public officials would be personally liable for civil damages only if their conduct violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.


Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School District 205, 88 S.Ct. 1731 (1968)


Pickering v. Board of Education involved a teacher that publicly expressed opposition to a proposed tax increase by a local board of education.  Subsequently, the Board of Education dismissed the teacher, Pickering.  Pickering filed suit alleging violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of expression.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the teacher's basic position by clearly stating "...absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him, a teacher's exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment."


However, the case did outline specific guides which could be considered as justifiable reasons for the curtailment of employee's freedom of speech and subsequently, legally defensible causes for dismissal.  The specific guides enumerated in Pickering can be summarized as follows:


  1. Disruption of working relationship between the employees and their supervisor,

  2. Breach of loyalty or confidentiality,

  3. General disruption of the public service,

  4. Indication by the statement(s) that the person is unfit to teach or otherwise function in a professional capacity, and

  5. Failure to comply with established grievance procedures.


Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978)


A local governmental unit is liable for money damages under Title 42 U.S.C. ยง1983 if one of its employees violates another person's federal constitutional or statutory rights acting in accordance with a local governmental unit policy or well established custom.  A governmental unit is not liable simply because one of its employees commits a constitutional violation, but liability is created when the employee commits the offense while following a governmental unit policy, custom, or established practice.


Goss v. Lopez, 95 S.Ct. 729


Public school students facing temporary suspension of 10 days or less were entitled at a minimum, to reasonable due process safeguards, since attendance at school is considered a protected property interest by the Constitution.  The minimum standards set forth were written on oral notice of the charges, including the evidence, and an opportunity by the student to respond to the charges.  Once this has occurred, school officials may take any action deemed necessary.


The Court also suggested that students should be afforded greater due process protection for long-term suspensions.  Long-term suspensions, generally 10 days or more, afford the student the opportunity to obtain counsel, present witnesses, and cross-examine any witness presented.


State v. Stein, 203 Kan. 638, 456 P. 2d. 1, cert. denied, 90 S.Ct., 996 (1970)


This case provided a clear basis for school searches.  The Court stated:


"Although a student may have control of his school locker against his fellow students, his possession is not exclusive against the school and its officials.  A school does not supply its students with lockers for illicit use in harboring pilfered property or harmful substances.  We deem it a proper function of school authorities to inspect the lockers under their control and to prevent their use in illicit ways or for illegal purposes.


We believe this right of inspection is inherent in the authority visited in school administration and that the same must be retained and exercised in the management of our schools if their educational functions are to be maintained and the welfare of the student body preserved."


New Jersey v. TLO, 105 S.Ct. 733 (1985)


The Supreme Court examined whether the Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, is applicable to schools and their environment.  The Court held that it does apply to the school setting, but to a lesser degree than law enforcement agencies.  The Court stated that a search can be made if a school official had "reasonable suspicion" that a violation of law or school rules has occurred.  The search should be reasonably justified and conducted in a reasonable manner in light of the alleged infraction.


Baker v. Owen, 96 S.Ct. 210 (1975)


The Supreme Court stated in Baker v. Owen that as long as corporal punishment is administered fairly, reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances, it does not violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution relative to cruel and unusual punishment.  Baker v. Owen also established some basic ground rules for administering corporal punishment.  These are:



Notification to the student that corporal punishment may result in cases of certain misbehavior.



It should also not be used as a "first line of punishment" in that other measures should be tried first before resorting to punishing corporally.



Corporal punishment must be administered in the presence of a second school official who has been informed of the violations.



If requested, the school official must provide the child's parent or legal guardian a written explanation of reasons for the punishment and the name of the other school official present.


Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, 97 S.Ct. 2766 (1977)


While local autonomy of school districts is a vital national tradition, federal courts have the authority to restructure administration of school systems when constitutional violations on the part of school officials have been proven.  This particular case involved racial discrimination in the operation of schools by the Dayton, Ohio, Board of Education.


Milliken v. Bradley, 94 S.Ct. 3112, 3125 (1974), 97 S.Ct. 2749 (1977)


No single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control of schools.  Local autonomy has long been thought essential both to the maintenance of community concern and support for public schools and to quality of the educational process.  Local control over the educational process affords citizens an opportunity to participate in decision-making, permits the structuring of school programs to fit local needs and encourages "experimentation, innovation, and a healthy competition for educational excellence."


School district lines and current laws pertaining to and affecting local control are not sacred and if they conflict with constitutional provisions, the federal courts have a duty to prescribe appropriate remedies.


Wisconsin v. Yoder, 92 S.Ct. 1526 (1972)


A state is recognized as having a tremendous responsibility for the proper education of its citizens, and as such has the authority to impose reasonable rules and regulations shaping the basic educational process.  Such rules and regulations created, however, must be balanced against citizens' fundamental rights and interests protected by the provisions of the U.S. Constitution.  In this regard Wisconsin v. Yoder dealt with the issue of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.


The case involved children whose Amish parents refused to send them to high school for religious reasons, in direct violation of the state's compulsory attendance law.  The Supreme Court ruled that the parents could not be compelled to send their children to school.  The court stated that for a state to enforce compulsory school attendance in the face of an argument that such attendance violates the practice of a legitimate religious belief, a state must demonstrate that the requirement does not interfere with basic canons of a religious order, or that the state's interest is significantly greater than the interest claiming protection under the free exercise clause.




Singleton v. Jackson Municipal Separate School District, 419 F.2d 1211 (5th Cir., 1970)


The case of Singleton v. Jackson Municipal Separate School District involved alleged discrimination in employment practices.  The decision rendered stated essentially that staff members will be hired, assigned, promoted, paid, demoted, dismissed and otherwise treated without regard to race, color, or national origin.  It also established that employment practices that may affect the employment status of individuals, must be taken on the basis of objective and reasonable non-discriminatory standards.  Such criteria shall also be equally applicable to any phase of personnel management.


Owen v. City of Independence, Missouri 445 U.S. 622 (1980)


A local governmental unit is not immune from liability simply because its officials were acting in good faith.


Davis v. Meeks, 344 F. Supp. 298 (N.D. Ohio 1972)


Marital, maternal, or paternal status shall not affect the rights and privileges of students to receive a public education nor to take part in any extracurricular activity offered by the school.  Participation by females in athletics may not be denied on the basis of present or past marital status.


Holt v. Shelton, 341 F. Supp. 821 (M.D. Tenn. 1972)


Pregnant students shall be permitted to continue in school in all instances when continued attendance has the sanction of the expectant mother's physician.  The physician's approval of such continued attendance must be on file at the school.


Jenkins v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 506 F. 2d. 992 (5th Cir., 1975)


The Court upheld the suspensions of several students who had urged other students to engage in a boycott even though they had not actually participated in the demonstrations.  The Court upheld that this behavior was far removed from the "silent passive expression of opinion" protected by the First Amendment in prior Supreme Court decisions.  Therefore, a School Board is not limited to disciplining only those students who actually participate in acts of violence, but also may suspend students who urge and stimulate other students to engage in a boycott and acts of violence and disruption on the school campus.


Scott v. Board of Education, Union Free School District #17, Hicksville, 305 N.Y.S. 2d 601 (1969)


This particular case acknowledged that student dress and appearance can be regulated by school authorities to a certain degree.  While dress regulations based solely on fashion or taste may be difficult to support legally, board regulations established to protect safety or control disruption of the school environment have been generally accepted by the courts.


The case of Scott v. Board of Education, involve the right of the Board of Education to prohibit the wearing of slacks by female students.  The Court stated that dress styles or appearance which cause undue attention or disruption or "call attention to anatomical details" may be regulated because they fall within the Board's concerns.  However, flat prohibitions against slacks are not valid, nor are regulations based on style and taste, instead of safety, order and/or discipline."


Sylvester v. Cancienne, 95-0789, p. 7 (La.App. 1st Cir.11/9/95), 664 So.2d 1259, 1263


The court upheld the demotion of a tenured principal to classroom teacher by the parish school board, arising from incident in which the principal allegedly tied behaviorally disordered five-year-old child to desk, bound the student's ankles  and wrists with duct tape, and left him in open doorway in public view for approximately two hours. Court held that:  (1) board did not deny procedural due process to principal when it allowed allegedly biased board member to participate in tenure hearing;  (2) board did not deny procedural due process to principal when it failed to make taped witness statements available to her prior to hearing, and when board did not hear taped statements;  (3) trial court did not deny procedural due process to principal when it failed to make child's medical records available to her prior to hearing;  (4) trial court did not deny procedural due process to principal when it refused to allow testimony regarding board's after-adopted policy regarding restraint of students;  and (5) board was not arbitrary and capricious in finding principal guilty of incompetence and willful neglect.


Howard v. West Baton Rouge Parish School Board, 2000-3234 (La.6/29/01), 793 So.2d 153


In this particular case the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that a tenured teacher who brought a gun on school grounds inside his car, had knowledge that gun was kept in the vehicle, and parked the vehicle in an area easily accessible to students did not amount to a willful neglect of duties under the Teachers' Tenure Law, precluding teacher's termination on such grounds, absent any evidence that teacher failed to follow orders or an identifiable school policy, even if teacher's conduct was a mistake that possibly endangered students.




Griggs v. Duke Power Company, 91 S. Ct. 849 (1971)


Employer may not require high school education or passing a standardized general intelligence test as a condition of employment or job transfer where there is no showing that criteria are significantly related to job performance and where the requirements have a disparate impact on blacks.


Harrah Independent School District v. Martin, 99 S. Ct. 1062 (1979)


A school board did not violate a tenured teacher's rights by failing to renew the teacher's contract because of her failure to earn required college credits.


San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez 93 S. Ct. 1278 (1973)


School board did not violate tenured teacher's rights by failing to renew teacher's contract because of her failure to earn required college credits.


Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 98 S. Ct. 2733 (1978)


Goal of racial diversity is sufficient reason for consideration of race in admissions decisions, provided that admission of persons like plaintiff, a white medical school applicant, is not precluded solely on the ground of race.  Race is a suspect classification and preferences for any group on the basis of race or ethnic origin is subject to strict scrutiny.  Guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and title VI are coextensive.


Ingraham v. Wright, 97 S. Ct. 1401 (1977)


The cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment does not apply to disciplinary corporal punishment in the public schools.  Students subjected to corporal punishment in the schools have a "liberty" interest for purposes of procedural due process.  The Court refused to rule on the question of whether excessive corporal punishment could raise substantive due process issues.


Carey v. Piphus, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978)


Student deprived of the right to procedural due process is entitled to nominal damages even if his suspension is found to be justified, but other damages will not be presumed.  Damages must be tailored to the interests protected, and plaintiff must prove pain and suffering was actually caused by the deprivation.


Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 94 S. Ct. 791 (1974)


Mandatory school board rules requiring pregnant teachers to take leave at the fourth or fifth month before the birth of the child violated the due process clause because these arbitrary dates bear no valid relationship to the State's interest in preserving the continuity of instruction.  A rule making teachers ineligible to return to work until after the child was at least three months old is also invalid.



Reprinted, with permission from April 12, 1992 Desk Reference on Significant U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Affecting Public Schools.  Copyright 1992 National School Boards Association.  All rights reserved.