LOCATION: The Miami Herald
DOCKET NO.: 73-62
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
CITATION: 417 US 402 (1974)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 10, 1974
Daniel M. Friedman - for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court
Leo Pfeffer - for petitioners
Thomas N. Sullivan - for respondents
Facts of the case
Media for Wheeler v. BarreraAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1974 in Wheeler v. Barrera
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 10, 1974 in Wheeler v. Barrera
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in number 73-62 Wheeler against Barrera will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.
Harry A. Blackmun:
This case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
The petitioners are the State of Missouri and its State Board of Education.
The respondents are parents of minor school children attending the elementary and secondary nonpublic, that is parochial schools in the core area of Kansas City.
The case concerns Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as amended.
That Act provides for federal funding of special programs such as remedial reading for educationally deprived children in both public and private schools.
The plaintiffs who are the respondents here by their lawsuit claim that the public school authorities failed to provide adequate programs for private school children as compared with the programs for public school children.
The defendant petitioners took the position that what the plaintiffs were asking for, exceeded the requirements of the statute and furthermore, it violated the Missouri constitution and Missouri Law on Public Policy.
The District Court concluded that Missouri had fulfilled its obligation under Title I and denied relief and the Court of Appeals by a divided vote, reversed and remanded the case and it comes to us in that posture.
Congress by the federal act, recognized that all children from educationally deprived areas do not necessarily attend the public schools in that since the legislative aim was to provide assistance to children rather than to specific schools, it was necessary to include eligible private school children among the beneficiaries of Act.
Under the federal plan, the Act is administered by local public education officials.
They formulate a plan that is approved by the state agency and then by the United States Commissioner of Education.
The Act requires that assistance to private school students be comparable to that provided for public school children.
The Court of Appeals noted this comparability requirement and concluded that Missouri was in violation of it in meeting the argument that Missouri law forbade sending private school teachers into private schools -- public school teachers into private schools, the court held that this issue was to be determined by federal rather than by state law.
And finally, the Court of Appeals refused to pass on the claim that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment would be violated if Title I in fact required or even permitted public school teachers to perform their services on private school premises.
The court held that since no plan had yet been implemented, it must refrain from passing upon an important constitutional question of that kind on a hypothetical basis.
We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, but in doing so, we are in disagreement with some of the conclusions that that court reached.
We agree that on this record and in this stage of the proceedings, we cannot reach and decide whether Title I requires the assignment of teachers to provide remedial instruction on private school premises.
The comparability requirement in any event can be satisfied by other means.
We also conclude that the federal statute evinces a clear intention not to avoid state constitutional and state law of provisions.
In other words, we conclude that state law governs.
We thus agree with the remand to the District Court and we point out a number of avenues that are available to the Missouri authorities to comply with the statute.
Other aspects of the case, we conclude are not right for review here.
We emphasize that while the plaintiffs are entitled to comparable services under the statute, they are not entitled to any particular form of service and that it is the role of state and local agencies and not of the federal courts at least at this stage of the litigation to formulate an acceptable and legally suitable plan.
Thus as stated before, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, but with some disagreement on our part as to the reasoning by which the court arrived at its result and by a positive assertion on our part that it is Missouri law and not federal law which has to govern on the issue of the legal availability of particular services.
I am authorized to say that Mr. Justice Powell joins the court's judgment and opinion, but it has filed a separate concurring statement, that Mr. Justice White concurs in the judgment and has filed a separate statement, that Mr. Justice Marshall concurs in the result and that Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.