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  • Writer's pictureAimee

Key Laws to Know: Section 1983 Constitutional Rights

Federal statute 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 provides a vehicle for plaintiffs to address violations of federal rights in the school setting. 

An important U.S Supreme Court case from the 1970s provides a right of action to address actions by a school district that are the “moving force” behind deprivation of constitutional rights. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). To succeed on a Monell claim, a Plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) violation of a federal constitutional right, and (2) causality (i.e., the violation was caused by the school district). Most often, this liability is shown by a plaintiff through evidence that the school district has not properly trained its staff to protect constitutional rights.

While the right to education is not protected by the U.S. Constitution, several other rights such as the right to free expression and the right to freedom of bodily integrity are.  In Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “[p]ublic education is not a ‘right’ granted to individuals by the Constitution.” 457 U.S. 202 (1982).  But, courts have found that students have a property interest in public education protected by the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause. See Fiedler v. Stroudsburg Area Sch. Dist., 427 F. Supp. 3d 539, 563 (M.D.Pa. 2019). As such, schools must afford a student due process before the student is deprived of their right to education.

In order to make a viable claim under Section 1983 for violation of due process, a plaintiff has to show: (1) that they were deprived of an individual interest that is included within the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of “life, liberty, or property,” and (2) that the school did not afford the plaintiff the proper procedures available to protect “due process of law.” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2006). As seen above – at least in Pennsylvania – the right to a public education is a property interest held by all public school students, including those with disabilities.  The due process procedures applicable to students must align with the requirements of school policy, state laws, and federal laws.

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