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Toledo Legal News - 1971 Columbus school incident led to landmark Supreme Court decision

 

The 1975 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Goss vs. Lopez, provided due process rights for students suspensions and expulsions from school.

The case stemmed from Columbus schools issuing 10-day suspensions to nine students from two high schools and one junior high school for misconduct.

The principals did not conduct hearings for students since Ohio law did not require them, according to Oyez, an online resource of Supreme Court cases.

The misconduct took place in February 1971. Six Marion-Franklin High School students, Rudolph Sutton, Tyrone Washington, Susan Cooper, Deborah Fox, Clarence Byars and Bruce Harris, were suspended for disruptive behavior during a demonstration in the auditorium.

Washington was among the demonstrators in the school auditorium while class was conducted, according to court records. He refused the school principal's request to leave when asked.

Sutton attacked a police officer who was removing Washington while the other four were suspended for similar activities.

Dwight Lopez and Betty Crome were students at the now defunct Central High School and McGuffey Junior High School, respectively, and were suspended for other disturbances.

Lopez was suspended for participating in a lunchroom disturbance where school property was damaged.

He testified that 75 other students were suspended from his school the same day, that he did not do any school damage and he was an innocent bystander.

Crome participated in a demonstration at a high school she was not attending. She was arrested with the others and released without being charged. The school suspended her the next day.

Carl Smith was the ninth plaintiff but court records did not specify the reason for his suspension.

A three-judge district court found that the school had violated students' rights under the 14th amendment to deprive any person of life, liberty and property without due process. The court said schools should provide a hearing within three days of the student's removal.

The appellants argued there is no educational right to an education at the public's expense.

But the Supreme Court found in a 5-4 decision that Ohio had extended education rights to its citizen and were considered property interests protected by the due process clause.

"At the outset, appellants contend that, because there is no constitutional right to an education at public expense, the Due Process Clause does not protect against expulsions from the public school system. This position misconceives the nature of the issue, and is refuted by prior decisions," Justice Byron White said in the majority opinion. "The Fourteenth Amendment forbids the state to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Protected interests in property are normally 'not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are created and their dimensions are defined' by an independent source such as state statutes or rules."

BRANDON KLEIN, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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