Landmark Case Honig v. Doe

Landmark Case Law Review: Honig v. Doe

ESE603: Law and Ethics in Special Education

It can be quite a challenge when dealing with students with special needs especially those who have emotional behaviors along with their disability. Finding ways to help deescalate the situation is often beneficial. Coming up with a plan prior to an outbreak will help decrease the risk of a student getting upset or having a tantrum. Often students need to be removed from the room, but there are laws that the school and teachers must abide by when dealing with students with disabilities. We will discuss a certain case that brought attention to two students who were emotionally disturbed: The Honig v. Doe case. We will discuss a summary of the case, parties involved, case outcome, evaluate the impact the case had on special education programming, explain how legislation promotes a collaborative decision-making process regarding placement and services for special education, analyze the ethical and legal conflict regarding instruction and student placement that was brought to the forefront after the case, and discuss personal beliefs if I were one of the teachers of the two students.

Summary of the Honig v. Doe Case

The Honig v. Doe case (1988), was brought forth because of two emotionally disturbed students that displayed aggressive behavior in school. One student “John Doe”, in November 1980, age 17, was found aggressively choking his classmate after reportedly being bullied. He was then escorted to the principal’s office and kicked out a window as a result of his anger. For his punishment the school suspended him for 5 days. On the last day of his suspension, the school district notified his parents that they were recommending him being expelled and his suspension would continue indeterminately until the proceedings were completed (EducationLaw, 2019). Under IDEA, Doe qualified for special education services, therefore they filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Unified School District and California Superintendent of Public Instruction. “They stated that the school district violated the “stayput” provision. Under the IDEA “stay-put” provisions, children with disabilities must remain in their existing educational placements pending the completion of any review proceedings unless parents and state or local educational officials agree otherwise. Doe alleged that the pending expulsion proceedings triggered the “stay-put” provision and that educators violated his rights in suspending him indefinitely” (EducationLaw, 2019, para. 3). Therefore, the court granted the school place Doe back in his existing placement pending a review of his Individualized Education Program. According to Justia (2019), “The “stay-put” provision prohibits state or local school authorities from unilaterally excluding disabled children from the classroom for dangerous or disruptive conduct growing out of their disabilities during the pendency of review proceedings” (para. 3). Jack Smith was another student who was emotionally disturbed and exhibited aggressive behavior. When Smith was in middle school his behavior escalated and he was caught stealing, taking students money, and made verbal, sexual comments to females within his class. Like Doe, Smith was suspended for five days. They also wanted to expel him from school pending his proceedings. The court ruled that there are a variety of methods that can be used for students with aggressive behaviors such as “study carrels, time-outs, detention, restriction of privileges, or suspensions for up to 10 days. The 10-day suspension is used to help the students “cool down” while the school reviews the IEP and hopefully come to agreement with the parents about placement. If the parents do not agree then this will give the school time to seek assistance from the court”. (EducationLaw, 2019, para. 8).

Impact of Ruling for Special Education Programming

Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988), removed the ability of the school district to suspend or expel a student with disabilities for more than 10 days unless there is a significant finding of dangerous behavior that affected the entire student body. “The school could only expel these students, according to the court, if safety concerns for the entire student population significantly outweighed the rights of the child” (Naturez-Vous, 2019, para. 10). The case brought forth awareness to students with disabilities that have emotional and aggressive behaviors. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all children with disabilities are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education regardless of the severity of their disability (Osborne & Russo, 2014, Chapter 2.3). Osborne and Russo (2014) discussed during, “Honig v. Doe, the Supreme Court acknowledged that even though students with disabilities have dangerous behaviors, they cannot be denied educational benefits under IDEA” (Chapter 2.3, para. 2). There are several options now that can be considered when students misbehave: When students with disabilities misbehave, educators should take the following steps (time limitations are in brackets):

• “Take whatever measures are necessary to restore order and maintain discipline (immediately).

• Suspend students (for up to 10 school days) by following normal procedures.

• Conduct functional behavioral assessments (FBAs) and develop behavioral intervention plans (BIPs) if these are not already in place; review the FBAs and BIPs if they are in place (within 10 school days).

• If expulsion is under consideration, complete manifestation determination meetings (within 10 school days), keeping in mind that if officials determine that student misbehaviors were manifestations of their disabilities, the children may not be expelled but may be moved to more restrictive placements by following the IDEA’s change in placement procedures. If officials decide that there is no relationship between student disabilities and misconduct, the children may be expelled, but they must continue to receive special education services during the expulsion period.

If student misconduct involved weapons, drugs, or the infliction of serious bodily injuries, consider placing offenders in interim alternative educational settings (for up to 45 school days).

• Seek hearing officer or judicial orders to change the placements (immediately) if the students are not expelled or moved to interim alternative educational settings and school personnel are of the opinion that maintaining their then-current placements is likely to result in injuries to the students with disabilities and/or others.

• At the end of expulsion periods or interim alternative placements, either return students to their former settings or develop new ones by following the IDEA’s change in placement procedures” (Osborne & Russo, 2014, Chapter 6.1, para. 33, Figure 6.1).

The suspension up to ten days provides the students with a chance to calm down. “If the student’s behavior is related to his or her disability, the IEP team will perform a functional behavioral assessment and create an intervention plan for the behavior. If the student already has a plan in place, then the plan will be reviewed to see if it was being followed and it will be revised to address the current behavior problem that led to the disciplinary action. If the IEP team finds that the student’s behavior was related to the disability or an improperly implemented IEP, the student is returned to the original education setting unless the parents agree to a new placement as part of the behavior intervention plan” (GreatSchools, 2015, para. 19).

Collaborative Decision-Making

The Education of the Handicapped Act required States to provide free appropriate public education for all students with disabilities. “The act places procedural safeguards designed to ensure parental participation in decisions concerning the education of their disabled children and to provide administrative and judicial review of any decisions with which those parents disagree” (WrightsLaw, 2011). Students have the right to be able to receive an education in the least restrictive environment possible. “Accordingly, parents are granted procedural safeguards which provides them with the opportunity to have an input into all decisions that will affect their child’s education. They also have the right to review any decisions they think are inappropriate”. “Procedural safeguards include the right to examine all relevant records pertaining to the identification, evaluation and educational placement of their child; prior written notice whenever the responsible educational agency proposes (or refuses) to change the child’s placement or program; an opportunity to present complaints concerning any aspect of the local agency’s provision of a free appropriate public education; and an opportunity for “an impartial due process hearing” with respect to any such complaints. At the conclusion of any such hearing, both the parents and the local educational agency may seek further administrative review and, where that proves unsatisfactory, may file a civil action in any state or federal court. In addition to reviewing the administrative record, courts are empowered to take additional evidence at the request of either party and to grant such relief as [they] determine is appropriate” (Wrightslaw, 2011, para. 6-7).

Ethical and Legal Conflict

The legal conflict that was brought forth in the Honig v. Doe case was that they could not suspend or expel a student for more than 10 days based on their behavior that was related to their disability. It was against their rights under the IDEA. It is imperative that parents are aware of the student’s code of conduct and it is also up to them to help their children understand the consequences for breaking the rules. Parents along with the IEP team should develop a functional behavioral assessment plan (GreatSchools, 2015). Knowing each student’s disability and what makes them tic is important to assisting with their behavioral plan. Establishing ways to reduce the risk of outbreak will be beneficial in helping the teachers and parents before the outburst occurs. Not all students are the same and that is also true for students with disabilities. They all react differently to different situations. Something that sets one off may not set another student off. For example, students with Autism like a certain routine and often get upset with transitioning from one activity or assignment the next. Having an action plan will allow the teacher within the classroom to give signals such as ringing a bell or announcing that within the next five minutes we are moving on. This will allow them to know what to expect. The ethical conflict, the courts ruled that if the student’s behavior was related to his disability, then the school could not expel the students. “In making the manifestation determination, the team (comprised of school personnel, the student’s parents, and other relevant members of the student’s IEP team) will review: the student’s IEP, the student’s behavior intervention plan, any teacher observations, and any relevant information provided by the parents. The team is required to answer these questions: 1.) Considering the behavior subject to discipline, review the student’s behavior to determine if it was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the student’s disability. For example, a student’s low self-esteem, while possibly a by-product of a learning disability, is not alone sufficient to be considered a basis for finding a direct relationship between the student’s disability and behavior. Did the school fail to follow a portion of the IEP including a behavior intervention plan in a manner that directly caused the misconduct” (GreatSchools, 2015, para. 16-17).

My Opinion

If I were one of John Doe or Jack Smith’s teachers, my personal beliefs may have influenced my judgment and the fairness of the final court ruling of Honig v. Doe. When I was in school we were separated from the students with disabilities or special education classroom. They were all mixed within one classroom depending on the severity of their disability. As a teacher, I can see where disruptive behavior can be a lot to deal with. Very aggressive behavior where you were afraid for the life of another student or yourself would warrant me to think the student’s placement needed to be revised. When I worked at the preschool that serviced students with disabilities, we have several students with ADHD and Autism and some have very aggressive behaviors toward students and the teachers. One student would always go around biting other students when he or she could not get their way or they were wanting a toy that another student had. Sometimes they would even have a meltdown. We would pull them off to the side and talk with them in a calm voice and give them a moment to cool down. Once they felt that they were ready to return to the center or activity then they could join their classmates. Often, we did this several times throughout the week and sometimes several times in a day.

My seven-year-old cousin is in the first grade this year and he has been diagnosed with ADHD. His Kindergarten year he was suspended four times for displaying aggressive behavior. This year he has already been suspended twice for stealing from the lunchroom as well as the teacher’s treasure chest. We have been telling his mother that she needs to get him in to see a behavioral therapist. He has threatened his own life and he is physically aggressive to his classmates as well as siblings at home. Finally, he has gotten an appointment and is getting tested for multiple things. I feel that if they would have allowed him to continue on with his current behavior that he may end up like John Doe or Jack Smith and physically hurt someone.

In conclusion, John Doe and Jack Smith were two behaviorally disturbed students with disabilities. They displayed aggressive behavior that got them suspended and almost expelled; however, under IDEA they had laws that protected them. Their parents were displeased with the school and filed a suit stating their special education rights were violated. The Honig v. Doe case established that the two students could not be expelled because their behavior was related to their disability. They also were allowed to remain in their current placement settings while their IEP was reviewed.


HONIG, California Superintendent of Public Instruction v. DOE, et al. (2011). In WrightsLaw. Retrieved from

Honig v. Doe. (2019). In EducationLaw. Retrieved from honig-v-doe.html.

Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988). (2019). In Justia. Retrieved from

Honig v. Doe: Summary & Significance. (2019). In Naturez-Vous. Retrieved from

IDEA 2004 Close Up: Disciplining Students with Disabilities. (2015). In GreatSchools. Retrieved from

Osborne, A. G., & Russo, C. J. (2014). Special education and the law: A guide for practitioners (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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