Beilan v. Board of Education, School District of Philadelphia

PETITIONER: Herman A. Beilan
RESPONDENT: Board of Public Education, School District of Philadelphia
LOCATION: Philadelphia Board of Public Education

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 357 US 399 (1958)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1958
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1958

C. Brewster Rhoads - For the Respondent
John Rogers Carroll - For the Petitioner

Facts of the case

On June 25, 1952, Herman A. Beilan, a teacher in the Philadelphia school system for the previous 22 years, presented himself in the Superintendent’s office at the latter’s request. The Superintendent asked if Beilan had been the Press Director of the Professional Section of the Communist Political Association in 1944. Beilan requested to speak with counsel before answering, and he was allowed to do so. After speaking with counsel, Beilan informed the Superintendent that he would not answer that question or other similar ones. The Superintendent informed Beilan that refusal to answer such questions could lead to his dismissal. On November 25, 1953, the Board of Public Education initiated dismissal proceedings against Beilan and cited Beilan’s failure to answer the Superintendent’s question regarding his 1944 activities as evidence of “incompetency.” There was a formal hearing, at which Beilan did not testify. The charge of incompetency was sustained and Beilan was fired. The administrative appeal upheld the decision of the local Board. Beilan appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which set aside Beilan’s discharge. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed.


Did the removal of a teacher for “incompetency” based on the teacher’s refusal to confirm or deny involvement in various subversive organizations violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Beilan v. Board of Education, School District of Philadelphia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1958 in Beilan v. Board of Education, School District of Philadelphia

Earl Warren:

Herman A. Beilan, Petitioner, versus Board School District of Philadelphia.

Mr. Carroll, you may proceed.

John Rogers Carroll:

Thank you, Your Honor.

The Court please.

This case arises on certiorari to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The issue involved is whether a school teacher, public school teacher, maybe dismissed from his job on the ground of the incompetency without a hearing on his competency simply because he refused to answer a question relating to past Communist affiliations.

The question in this case, unlike others Your Honors have had, was not asked formally in the form of a note or before a congressional committee but informally by his administrative superior, the Superintendent of schools.

The facts which gave rise to this situation are briefly these.

Petitioner was appointed a public teacher in Philadelphia on February 17th, 1930.

For 23 years thereafter, he continued to teach school and was continually rated competent in accordance with the official rating system.

In May -- pardon me -- June of 1952, he received the summons from his Superintendent, the District Superintendent Schools to appear at the Superintendent's office to discuss what the Superintendent described on his letter as a matter of importance.

Mr. Beilan of course appeared.

Superintendent told Mr. Beilan at that time that he had certain information which bore upon Mr. Beilan's fitness to continue to be a teacher.

Mr. Beilan invited him to tell what that information was and what he had on his mind.The Superintendent agreed to and did ask one question to wit.

“Were you in 1944 press director of the professional section of the Communist Political Association?”

Mr. Beilan asked leave to consult a counsel.

And as the Superintendent testified, that was entirely satisfactory to him.

Mr. Beilan thereupon left and did consult counsel.

Nothing happened until about four months later in October.

Specifically on the 14th of October, 1952, another similar letter was directed to Mr. Beilan by the Superintendent.

He came again and then told the Superintendent that counsel had advised him that he could not legally be asked questions such as that.

At that point the Superintendent said, “I don't want you to think this is a matter of idle curiosity on my part.

This is a serious and important question of your fitness.

And your persistent refusal may lead to your dismissal.”

Mr. Beilan nevertheless refused to answer the question.

He went back to school and he continued in his job teaching English at Simon Gratz High School, Philadelphia, and continued to be rated competent for 13 months.

Superintendent permitted those efficiency ratings to be entered on his records.

Your Honors, if you care to note, we'll see at page 74 of the record that we have inserted photostatic copies of those 23 years of efficient ratings.

But, then came the Committee on Un-American Activities.

November 16th of 1953, only 13 months after his last interview with the Superintendent, Mr. Beilan was summoned along with almost 30 other Philadelphia school teachers to public televised hearings in Philadelphia.