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Linwood v. Board of Education of City of Peoria

decided: June 16, 1972.


Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, and Cummings and Sprecher, Circuit Judges.

Author: Castle

CASTLE, Senior Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff-appellant, Dewayne Linwood, a fifteen year old high school student, by his mother and next friend, instituted this action*fn1 against the defendant Board of Education on behalf of himself "and all other persons and students of School District No. 150, Peoria County, Illinois, similarly situated". The complaint alleged, inter alia, that the appellant, a student enrolled at Peoria Manual High School which is operated by the defendant-appellee Board was suspended on September 10, 1970 for a period of 7 days pursuant to Ill.Rev.Stat. 1969, ch. 122, § 10-22.6, without first being granted a hearing, or opportunity to make any statement in his own behalf; that appellant was not permitted to make up any test or work which occurred during the suspension period; that following his return to school a hearing was held on September 29, 1970 and appellant was advised on October 13, 1970 that he was expelled until January 18, 1971 (the commencement of the next school semester); and that Section 10-22.6 of the Illinois School Code (Ill.Rev.Stat.1969, ch. 122, § 10-22.6)*fn2 which purports to give Illinois school boards the power to provide for the suspension of and to expel students violates the due process and certain other provisions of the Illinois Constitution and the 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution. The complaint sought a declaratory judgment that § 10-22.6 is unconstitutional; mandatory injunctive relief to compel that appellant and other students suspended or expelled during the 1970-1971 school year be reinstated, be permitted to take all tests and courses missed, and receive credits accordingly; that records relating to the suspensions and expulsions be either destroyed or be impounded by the court; and that the appellant be awarded monetary damages.

The defendant-appellee filed an answer supported by attached exhibits which included the written notice given to appellant's mother of the hearing scheduled for September 29, 1970 to determine whether the appellant should be expelled and which advised her that appellant was charged with gross disobedience and misconduct for allegedly attacking and striking other students in the halls of the school on September 10, 1970; the defendant Board's definitions and rules pertaining to student discipline*fn3 and its procedures governing suspensions and expulsions;*fn4 the transcript of proceedings and evidence at the September 29, 1970 hearing (a copy of which had been furnished to appellant without cost pursuant to the Board's policy); and the record of the Board's action at its October 12, 1970 meeting expelling the appellant. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the pleadings. The District Court, after ruling that the plaintiff-appellant's action failed to qualify under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a valid class action, granted the defendant Board's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the cause. The plaintiff-appellant prosecuted this appeal.

Appellant seeks reversal of the judgment below on the grounds the District Court erred in its holdings that § 10-22.6 is constitutional, and was constitutionally applied in the instant matter; the Board's decision expelling appellant is supported by the record; and no genuine issue as to a material fact precluded the entry of a summary judgment.

In reference to the challenge of the constitutional validity of § 10-22.6 the principal contentions of the appellant are that the section violates the due process of law requirements of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution by authorizing school boards to make disciplinary suspensions or expulsions of students for "gross disobedience or misconduct" and by not requiring that a suspension for 7 days or less be preceded by a formal hearing.*fn5

The appellant in urging that the use of the language "gross disobedience or misconduct" in § 10-22.6 has the effect of making the section so vague and indefinite in its meaning and application that it fails to meet the tests of due process refers to the decision of this Court in Soglin v. Kauffman, 7 Cir., 418 F.2d 163. In that case the state university students involved were charged with "misconduct" and were being threatened with suspension or expulsion as punishment therefor. The university argued that its inherent power to discipline its students could be exercised without the necessity of relying on preexisting specific rules of conduct. Judge Cummings, speaking for the Court, aptly observed (418 F.2d at 167) that "power alone does not supply the standards needed to determine its application to types of behavior or specific instances of 'misconduct'". The Court recognized that the sanctions of suspension or expulsion may be applied by school authorities for properly proscribed misconduct, pointed out that school codes of conduct need not satisfy the same rigorous standards as criminal statutes, and carefully limited the scope of its holding, stating (418 F.2d at 168):

"We only hold that expulsion and prolonged suspension may not be imposed on students by a university simply on the basis of allegations of 'misconduct' without reference to any preexisting rule which supplies an adequate guide."

Again, in Whitfield v. Simpson, (D.C.E.D.Ill.) 312 F. Supp. 889, Judge Cummings, although speaking in dissent and expressing the view that the term "gross disobedience or misconduct" used in § 10-22.6 was, of itself, insufficient to supply a standard for the expulsion of a high school student, went on to state (312 F. Supp. at 898):

"Plaintiff's expulsion might have been sustainable had the School Board given content to 'gross disobedience or misconduct' through reasonably narrow rules or regulations. Chapter 122, Section 10-20.5, Illinois Revised Statutes, vested the Board with the power to 'adopt and enforce' such rules. Construed as a standard for the School Board's exercise of that rule-making authority, 'gross disobedience or misconduct' might well be constitutional. See Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388, 420-430, 55 S. Ct. 241, 79 L. Ed. 446; cf. Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116, 127-129, 78 S. Ct. 1113, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1204."

Thus, as Judge Cummings indicated in Whitfield, the rationale of Soglin that inherent power of a state university to maintain student discipline affords a constitutionally acceptable basis for it to suspend or expel students for misconduct providing preexisting rules reasonably define and interdict the conduct which may be so penalized, by a parity of reasoning equally dictates that a legislative enactment authorizing local school boards to utilize suspension or expulsion as disciplinary measures for "gross disobedience or misconduct" be recognized as a constitutionally acceptable basis for the imposition of such sanctions for conduct reasonably defined and proscribed by a local school code governing student conduct. And such is the case here. The Board's code of student conduct defined physical assault as gross disobedience or misconduct warranting suspension or expulsion.

In our judgment § 10-22.6 was not intended to be a self-executing regulation of student conduct. It is but a grant of power to local school boards. It does not purport to define or proscribe specific acts or omissions which may be penalized by suspension or expulsion. But it does furnish the local school authority with a general guideline or standard -- that student disobedience or misconduct must be "gross" to justify its being made a ground for suspension or expulsion. When it is considered in the context of the nature of the subject matter involved and the express "duty" imposed on local school boards by a companion section of the same enactment (Ill.Rev.Stat.1969, ch. 122, § 10-20.5) "to adopt and enforce all necessary rules for the management and government of the public schools of their district", this general standard, although insufficient in and of itself to operate as a rule to govern the actions of students, is adequate to guide the local school board in defining the specific acts for which it proposes to apply the sanctions of suspension or expulsion. Legislative enactments are not to be construed in a vacuum but in the context in which they appear and in the light of their intended purpose, and if susceptible of two interpretations -- one of which would invalidate the enactment -- the other and valid interpretation must be adopted. We do so here, and hold that § 10-22.6 is not invalid as a vague proscription of student conduct, but is to be implemented by appropriate rules adopted by the local school board to reasonably define and interdict the acts or omissions which may be penalized by suspension or expulsion. However, we do not hold that a student would have standing to challenge § 10-22.6 if he has committed misconduct truly gross by any standard.

It is apparent from the provisions of § 10-22.6 no expulsion, nor suspension for a period in excess of 7 days, is to be made unless preceded by a hearing held pursuant to notice of the time, place and purpose of the hearing. But appellant contends that the statute is constitutionally deficient from the standpoint of substantive and procedural due process, and lack of equal protection of law, in not requiring similar safeguards where a suspension of 7 days or less is imposed. We are of the view that a suspension for so relatively a short period for reasonably proscribed conduct is a minor disciplinary penalty which the legislature may elect to treat differently from expulsion or prolonged suspension without violating a constitutional right of the student. Cf. Williams v. Dade County School Board, 5 Cir., 441 F.2d 299. Certainly, the imposition of disciplinary measures such as after-school detention, restriction to the class-room during free periods, reprimand, or admonition does not per se involve matter rising to the dignity of constitutional magnitude. We conclude that insofar as the requirement of a hearing is concerned it was within the discretion of the lawmakers to equate suspensions of 7 days or less with other minor disciplinary penalties although they did reserve the imposition of this particular sanction to school officials with supervisory status.*fn6

Appellant's contention that § 10-22.6 is constitutionally infirm because of its failure to provide for an appeal from or judicial review of the Board's decision is not well taken. Although board action taken under § 10-22.6 is not brought within the purview of the Illinois Administrative Review Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1969, ch. 110, § 265) it is ...

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