Procedural and Substantive Due Process in Educational Setting

The Due Process Clause in the US Constitution is the fundamental guarantee that all proceedings against a person shall be fair, and that proper notice and an opportunity to be heard will be given before any action is imposed that may deprive a person of his life, liberty and property.  It is also a constitutional guarantee that the law used as a basis for depriving him either of his life, liberty and property is reasonable, fair and just.

This constitutional guarantee is embodied in the Fifth Amendment which states that “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law.”  This is also emphasized in the Fourteenth Amendment which states thus, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Two Purposes of Due Process Rights of Students

The protection guaranteed under the due process clause extends to the realm of the educational institutions, specifically in favor of students (V Lane Rawlins, 2005, p.1). This constitutional guarantee as applied in educational institution serves two distinct purposes.  The first is to ensure that with the use of fair procedures accurate decision is reached and that erroneous deprivation of constitutionally protected interest is avoided.

Before a student is punished by dismissal or suspension, it is necessary that proper procedure has been followed and that the right decision was made.  However, in filing a case for violation of due process the Supreme Court has declared that the student must prove that dismissal from school has deprived him of either a “liberty” or “property interest. (Board of Curators of the University of Missouri v. Horowitz 435 US 78)

The right to remain at school is an interest that is constitutionally protected.   The right to public education was one of the issues that was decided in the case of Goss v. Lopez (419 U.S. 565) where the Supreme Court ruled that “Protected interests are normally not created by the Constitution.  Rather, they are created and their dimensions defined by an independent source such as state statutes or rules entitling the citizen to certain benefits.” (419 US 567).

The second goal of due process in educational institutions is to assure the students that before the decision was reached, the students were heard and that they were treated fairly b school administrators.  It seeks to give the appearance of fairness in the procedures involved before the decision was reached.  It also serves as a guarantee against arbitrariness on the part of the school administrators.

Procedural Due Process

In the educational setting, there are two types of due process that are also protected under the US Constitution.  The first is the procedural due process and the other is the substantive due process.  Procedural due process entails compliance on the part of the educational institution of certain procedures and steps designed to guarantee fairness and to ensure that its decision was arrived at only after observance of the prescribed procedure.

Procedural due process in educational settings involves the following components: notice, hearing and appeal.  While there may not be specific provisions under state laws, as a matter of procedure, school administrators are required to send a written notice to a student informing him of the school policy violation or infraction he has committed and giving him opportunity to explain his side.  For example, a student who has committed an infraction of failure and refusal to wear the proper uniform at school must first be given written notice informing him that there is a school policy requiring students to wear school uniform and that the student has violated this school policy.  He will thereby be informed that there will be hearing to determine whether he indeed has violated the school policy.

School administrators are likewise required to hold hearings after notice is served to the student and his parents.  This is usually an informal process where the students with their parents are asked to explain whether there is any truth to the violation of school policy. In some cases, the students’ parents may seek the assistance of counsel so that they may be better represented during hearings.  The essence of the conduct of hearing is so that the student may be given the opportunity to meet the accusation against them and if possible deny the same or offer justifications his actions.

After the decision is handed down by the school administrators, the student should also be given the opportunity to file an appeal with an independent body so that he may seek reconsideration of the school administrator’s decision.  Usually the parents go to court if dissatisfied with the decision of the school administrators or the independent body.  Appeal gives the students the opportunity to rectify whatever errors have been made from the level of school administrators.  These three components ensure the before the student is disciplined, punished or otherwise deprived of his constitutionally protected interests, procedural guidelines have been observed