Honig v. Doe

108 S. Ct. 592 (1988)

    Issue : Can a school district suspend a handicapped student from school indefinitely pending completion of expulsionary proceedings. This case was decided under the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA, since renamed IDEA). The "stay put" provision was supported in this case involving two violent, emotionally disturbed students.

    Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court held that a student could be suspended for a period of ten days. More than ten days triggers the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment

    Significance: Handicapped Justice Brennen delivered the opinion of the Court:

      As a condition of federal financial assistance, the Education of the Handicapped Act requires States to ensure a "free appropriate public education" for all disabled children within their jurisdictions. In aid of this goal, the Act establishes a comprehensive system of procedural safeguards designed to ensure parental participation in decisions concerning the education of their disabled children and to provide administrative and judicial review of any decisions with which those parents disagree. Among these safeguards is the so-called "stay-put" provision, which directs that a disabled child "shall remain in (his or her) then current educational placement" pending completion of any review proceedings, unless the parents and state or local educational agencies otherwise agree. ...Today we must decide whether, in the face of this statutory proscription, state or local school authorities may nevertheless unilaterally exclude disabled children from the classroom for dangerous or disruptive conduct growing out of their disabilities. In addition, we are called upon to decide whether a district court may, in the exercise of its equitable powers, order a State to provide educational services directly to a disabled child when the local agency fails to do so. (484 U.S. 305, 309)

    New Exception: In 1994 Congress modified the change in placement and pendency rules with respect to students with disabilities who bring guns to schools, allowing a unilaterally-imposed interim alternative placement. In its 1988 decision in Honig v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted an expulsion or suspension of more than ten days as a change in placement. The Court therefore applied the provision of special education law that requires that special education students be allowed to stay in their current placement during the pendency of a dispute over a change in placement. As part of a legislative package entitled the Improving America's School Act of 1994, enacted in October 1994, U.S. Congress also amended the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA). Proceedings conducted pursuant to this section involve a child with a disability who has brought a weapon to school, may be placed in an interim alternative educational setting, no longer than 45 days.

    The interim alternative setting described in clause is be decided by the IEP (Individual Educational Plan) team. If a parent or guardian of a child described in clause requests a due process hearing the student attends the alternative educational setting during the proceedings, unless the parents and the local educational agency agree otherwise.

    The recent federal legislation has the effect of modifying the rule in Honig v. Doe with respect to students who carry weapons to school. This also has the effect of broadening the ability of the State Department of Education to give school districts permission to change the placement of a student against the wishes of the parents.

    Judicial Exception:

    Under Honig v. Doe, school districts have the option of going to court to override a parent's invocation of pendency or "stay put" rights even if the two exceptions described above do not apply. That is, a court can conclude that a child is so dangerous to himself or others that a disciplinary exclusion or change of placement is warranted. At least one Pennsylvania school district has gone to federal court for this purpose. Prior to the October 1994 amendments Congress enacted an earlier Gun- Free Schools Act as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

    The Gun-Free Schools Act generally requires certain types of disciplinary action, but includes an exception that can be exercised at the discretion of local administrators. This means that, under current law, the legal rules associated with the IDEA and Honig v. Doe are not superseded by the Gun-Free Schools Act.


Corkill, Phillip. The Law and American Education. Tucson, Arizona. 1991 (Lecture presented at the Flowing Wells School District Administrative Office).

Important Landmark Cases in Educational Law

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