High Court Upholds Closing Of Facility for Handicapped
Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand an appeals court's ruling allowing financially strapped states and localities to bypass parts of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 when they close facilities for handicapped students.
Without comment, the Justices declined requests by Jefferson County, Ky., school officials and parents of three residents of the Jewel Manor Day Treatment Center to overturn parts of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's decision in the case, Tilton v. Jefferson County Board of Education (Case No. 83-781).
The appeals court had ruled "that if a state or local agency must discontinue or close a facility for purely budgetary reasons, the [administrative-review] requirements of [P.L. 94-142] do not apply." (See Education Week, May 25, 1983.)
The statutory language in question states that handicapped students ''shall remain in [their] current educational placement" pending the completion of legal proceedings to change placement.
The parents and the school board disagreed on two questions: whether Jewel Manor was in fact an "educational program" subject to the administrative procedures outlined in P.L. 94-142, and whether the closing of the year-round facility and subsequent placement of its students in programs operated 180 days a year constituted a change in placement.
In June 1981, a federal district judge rejected the parents' request that he order the facility reopened. The judge reasoned that because Jewel Manor's program was offered primarily for treatment rather than for education, the sections of P.L. 94-142 dealing with students' changes in placement did not apply.
Last April, the Sixth Circuit Court upheld the lower court's conclusion on different grounds. Although it found "without merit" the ruling that the facility was a treatment program and not an educational program, it also held that the change-in-placement sections of the handicapped-children act do not apply if a state or local agency is forced to discontinue a program or close a facility for purely budgetary reasons.
The school board asked the Justices to review the appellate court's designation of Jewel Manor as an "educational placement" as defined by the law. That decision, the board continued, led the circuit court to erroneously hold that Jewel Manor's residents suffered a "change of placement" when the facility was closed.
According to a brief filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of the parents, the creation of a "cost exception" to P.L. 94-142 "sets a dangerous precedent for variance from the act."
"With state and local units facing increased funding pressure, the importance of this court's guidance on the issue of a cost exception to the procedural requirements ... becomes even more imperative," they argued unsuccessfully.
In other action last week:
The Court, without comment, let stand an appeals court's decision preventing a Tyrell County, N.C., father and mother from teaching their children at home. The case, Duro v. District Attorney (No. 83-719), stemmed from the February 1981 prosecution of the parents for violation of the state's compulsory-school-attendance law. (See commentary on page 24.)
The Duros, citing religious reasons, have refused to send their four school-aged children to either public or private schools in the county. Instead, the children are being taught at home by their mother, a registered nurse.
According to the Duros, their religion requires that they educate their children in accordance with a literal interpretation of the Bible. Ms. Duro, who does not have a teaching certificate, has used a "self-teaching" curriculum commonly used in Christian schools.
Although the state's case against the Duros was thrown out on procedural grounds, the parents filed suit in federal district court seeking declaratory judgment that application of the compulsory-attendance law against them represented an unconstitutional breach of their religious freedom.
A federal district judge ruled in their favor in August 1982, stating that their refusal to enroll their children in school was sincere and religiously motivated. Thus, the judge continued, the state's interest in the education of its residents was of insufficient weight to supersede the Duros' religious liberty.
Last July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that decision, holding that "the welfare of the children is paramount and their future well-being mandates attendance at a public or nonpublic school." (See Education Continued on Page X
Court Upholds Closing of Facility
Continued from Page 10
Week, Aug. 17, 1983.)
The Court ruled 5 to 4 that federal courts are prohibited by the Constitution from ordering state officials to comply with state laws.
"[I]t is difficult to think of a greater intrusion on state sovereignty than when a federal court instructs state officials how to conform their conduct to state law," Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote for the majority in Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman (No. 81-2101). "Such a result conflicts directly with the principles of federalism that underlie the 11th Amendment."
The Court's ruling overturned a decision by a federal appeals court that ordered Pennsylvania officials to correct conditions at a state institution for the mentally retarded. The appeals court had based its decision on a 1966 state mental-health law.
Several lawyers interviewed last week said the Pennhurst decision probably would have little effect on civil-rights law as it relates to education, because most such cases involve alleged violations of federal laws and the Constitution.
The Court unanimously ruled that a former Warren, Ohio, school administrator should be allowed to bring a civil-rights claim against her former employers in federal court even though she originally filed her claim in a state court.
The case, Migra v. Warren City School District Board of Education (No. 82-738), stemmed from the April 1979 firing by the board of Ethel D. Migra, the district's elementary-education supervisor. Earlier in the month, the board had renewed her contract for the 1979-80 school year.
Ms. Migra filed suit in state court, claiming that the board had violated her contract, deprived her of property without due process and equal protection, and had intended to punish her for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.
The trial court ruled in her favor only on the breach-of-contract claim, dismissing without prejudice her civil-rights claims. In July 1980, Ms. Migra filed a new suit in federal district court for a rehearing of those claims. The district court and an appeals court both ruled that such action was prohibited by the principle of res judicata, which prevents the rehearing of claims already decided.