Goss v. Lopez

419 U.S. 565 (1975)

    Facts: A storm of student protest movements during the 1960’s had broken out on college campuses in during the Vietnam War. By the early 70’s widespread student unrest had spread to include many public high schools including Columbus, Ohio. Students who either participated in, or were present at, demonstrations held on school grounds were suspended. Nine high school students in all, were suspended from school for misconduct for up to 10 days for various activities connected with widespread student unrest. None of them were given the benefit of a hearing. One named "Tyrone" disrupted a class, was asked to leave, and refused. Another named "Rudolph" physically attacked a police officer who was trying to remove Tyrone. "Lopez" and 75 other students were suspended on the same day for damaging school property. Lopez claimed he was an innocent bystander. "Betty" was arrested during a demonstration and released without formal charges being brought against her, but was notified of her suspension just before school the next morning.

    Many suspensions were for a period of 10 days. Students were not given a hearing before suspension, although at a later date some students and their parents were given informal conferences with the school principal. Ohio law provides free education to all children between the ages of 6 and 21.

    The Ohio public high school students, who had been suspended from school for misconduct for up to 10 days without a hearing, brought a class action against school officials, through their parents, seeking a declaration that the Ohio statute permitting such suspensions was unconstitutional claiming that their right to due process had been violated, “No State shall… deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...” They also wanted an order enjoining the officials to remove the references to the suspensions from the students' records. A three-judge District Court declared that appellees were denied due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because they were "suspended without hearing prior to suspension or within a reasonable time thereafter," and that the statute and implementing regulations were unconstitutional, and granted the requested injunction.

    Issue: Can schools suspend students without due process?

    Decision: Students cannot be suspended without a hearing before the suspension. In Goss v Lopez, the U.S. Supreme Court in a five-to-four decision, determined that students who are suspended for 10 days or less are entitled to certain rights before their suspension. These rights include an oral or written notice of the charges, an explanation, if students deny the charges, an explanation of the evidence against them; and an opportunity for students to present their side of the story.

    The Court stated that in an emergency, students could be sent home immediately and a hearing held at a later date. The Court did not give students a right to a lawyer, a right to cross-examine witnesses, a right to call witnesses, or a right to a hearing before an impartial person. Justice Powell in his dissenting opinion opposing judicial intervention in school disciplinary cases warned that if hearings were required for most suspensions, "school authorities would have time to do little else."

    Mr. Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court:

      This appeal by various administrators of the Columbus, Public School System(CPSS) challenges the judgment of a three-judge federal court, declaring that appellees - various high school students in the CPS were denied due process of law contrary to the command of the Fourteenth Amendment in that they were temporarily suspended from their high schools without a hearing either prior to suspension or within a reasonable time thereafter, and enjoining the administrators to remove all references to such suspensions from the students' records.

    Significance: If a student is suspended today, schools must provide:

    1. Oral or written notice.
    2. An explanationof evidence and a mini hearing.

    In Goss, the Court considered the due process interests of harm, cost, and risk. The Court ruled that reputations were harmed and educational opportunities were lost during the suspension; that an informal hearing would not be overly costly for the schools; and that while most disciplinary decisions were probably correct, an informal hearing would help reduce the risk of error.

    A more recent concern among educators has been the issue of computer access as a right or privilege. Should users be suspended from the computer pending formal discipline?

    No, with one exception. Just as students should not be expelled from class without due process they should not be expelled from computer facilities without due process. Declaring computer use a "privilege"does not remove due process requirements.

    This excerpt from the Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students explains this principle and its exception.

      "C. Status of Student Pending Final Action
        Pending action on the charges, the status
        of a student should not be altered, or his right to be present on the
        campus and to attend classes suspended, except for reasons relating to his physical or emotional safety and
        well being, or for reasons relating to the safety and well-being of students, faculty, or university property."

At both state and private universities, due process is apt to be considered legally-binding contractual requirement. At state schools in the U.S."some modicum" of due process is required by law.


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

Due Process: The Case of Goss v. Lopez:

Student Procedural Rights:

Important Landmark Cases in Educational Law

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