Honig, California Superintendent of Public Instruction
Doe Et Al

Supreme Court of the United States
Argued November 9, 1987
Decided January 20, 1988
This case was brought by the Superintendent of California’s schools who was seeking support from the court system to remove emotionally disturbed children from the education system. It was prompted by two cases in particular in which physical and verbal aggression was common, extreme, and well-documented in school records. After repeated suspensions, “John Doe” was to be expelled. His mother was invited to the hearing, but sought legal counsel instead because she believed that he should have been allowed to remain in school until the final decision was made. The District Judge intervened, initially ordering that the student be given home tutoring, but later directed his school allow him back in until after an IEP meeting could be held. The other student, “Jack Smith”, was relocated, at first with a half-day class schedule, and not long after suspended pending a hearing to determine if he should be excluded from the school district or given some alternative. The Smith’s attorney objected on the grounds that Jack should have been allowed a hearing before the suspension. Jack’s grandparents were given two options, either to send Jack to school for half-days or for Jack to receive home tutoring while waiting for a resolution.

Decision and Rationale
The District Court ruled to stand by the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) as it was written. It requires states to provide “free and appropriate public education” for children with disabilities. It guaranteed that parents are included in the decision making process. The “stay put” clause is the sticking point here. Students must be allowed to stay in their existing educational assignment until the situation is evaluated by the proper authorities, unless an agreement is made between parents and educators.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court, noting that the EHA did not make exceptions if a student is violent. The Superintendent protested, citing other appeals courts that had permitted the exception, the Supreme Court called for Certiorari. The higher court also affirmed the decision for two reasons. Firstly, the cases which were motivated by the actions of “john Doe” and “Jack Smith” are no longer viable cases due to age of the individual or jurisdiction, and consequently, don’t need the protection of the EHA. Secondly, the Supreme Court refused to speculate on the reason for the omission of such a clause, and declined to revise the order.

It is scary to think that a student could be a real danger to teaching staff and other students, but the procedures that have been set in place must be honored. This requires diligence in communicating with administrators and parents. Documentation is also very important if resolutions are to be found.

Quiz Question
Students can be excluded from the classroom setting for behavior issues if the disruption is due to emotional disorders. (True/False)

Reviewed independently by Eileen Boyd

HONIG v. DOE, 484 U.S. 305 (1988)

484 U.S. 305

No. 86-728.

Argued November 9, 1987
Decided January 20, 1988


Students in Southern California with severe emotional problems were in danger of being expelled from the school program. The first student "Doe" was suspended multiple times and up for expulsion. The superintendent was hoping that with the documented incidents of verbal and physical outburst would be grounds to remove students with this type of disability from the school program based on the fact it disrupted learning and a safety threat to others. Another student "Smith" was also facing similar action and had already been attending half day of school instead of a full day because of his behavior. Parent's of "Doe" sought legal help and was granted an injunction allowing the students to return to school until a decision was made.
Under the EHA act students are afforded "Free and Appropriate Public Education" all students regardless of disability are entitle to an education. Also the
"stay-put" provision prohibits state or local school authorities from unilaterally excluding disabled children from the classroom for dangerous or disruptive conduct growing out of their disabilities. This essentially states that even though the behavior may be violent in nature it is not consider or under the same rules and regulations as others due to the student's disability. Students are allowed to stay in their learning environment until the matter can be fully investigated and adressed. The only exception to this is when the educators and parents reach an agreement for other accomodations. By the time the case was heard "Doe" was 24 and "Smith" 21 so they no longer were protected by the EHA making the case moot but the ruling was upheld and was based on the fact that there was no provision or clause that would exclude students who were violent and abusive due to a disablity.
Impact on Teaching:
Working with students with emotional disabilities is not easy and some can become dangerous. It is the law and our duty to provide a "free and appropriate education" to all students regardless of their disablities. It takes parents, educators and administration working together to provide a safe learning environment to all students. Classrooms must have certian procedures and rules in place that will help ensure the safety of everyone. Teachers must be proactive in monitoring the students behavior.

Can students with emotional disabilities be held accountable for their behavior? If so what clause or Act supports that.

Kari Graves