Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia
Tara Lilley

I. Case Background

This was a civil case brought against the District of Columbia Public School system in 1972. It was brought to the court by Peter Mills on behalf of 7 school aged kids with special needs. Their right to a free public education was being denied. The children were forced to stay home, without education, because the Board of Education claimed that they were unable to be educated due to their “special needs”. They also stated that the cost of providing extra services was too expensive. These students allege that although they can profit from an education either in regular classrooms with supportive services or in special classes adapted to their needs, they have been labeled as behavioral problems, mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed or hyperactive. Also, the District of Columbia was choosing not to enroll students and/or expel/suspend/transfer others due to their disabilities. All of this was happening without affording them due process of law. Due process of law requires a hearing prior to exclusion and/or termination of classification into a special program.

Earlier in 1972 another very similar court case was held; Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Pennsylvania. This case focused on students with mental retardation. Mills vs. The Board of Education of the District of Columbia added on to this case by increasing the law to students with any and all disabilities.

II. Issues in the Case
- Since DC is a federal territory it does not have the same laws/rules as states.
- This case was a US District Court decision so it was only binding in the District of Columbia. It was later confirmed by the US Supreme Court following other court cases in 1975 and 1988.
- All the students involved in this case were African American, but they were fighting for the equality of all students with disabilities.

III. Outcome of the Case
District Judge Joseph Cornelius Waddy found in favor of the students and stated that a free public education or suitable alternative education, paid for by the Board of Education, must be provided for all students regardless of their needs and regardless of the cost. Also, no child with a disability can be denied free public education unless they are granted due process proceedings. If the school considered a change in their status they were granted legal counsel and status reviews prior to the change. A child cannot be suspended for more than 2 days without a proper hearing. They also need to be provided an education during that suspension. All of these protections were eventually incorporated into Public Law 94-142 by Congress.
This Public Law states that no child in the District of Columbia public school system can be excluded from a free education unless an alternate education service suited for that child’s needs is provided and/or a prior hearing and periodic review of the child’s status has been completed. It also states that any school age child will receive a free public education regardless of their mental/physical/emotional ability.
Lastly, this case insisted that the free, public education for these students go into effect within 30 days of the completion of the trial.
Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, 348 F. Supp 866 (D. DC 1972)