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Mills v. Board of Education DC

Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia, 348 F. Supp. 866 (D.D.C. 1972).

Authored by Martin Musbach


The Mills class action lawsuit was brought against the District of Columbia Public School system on behalf of 7 school aged children with special needs in 1972. These children had been denied the right to free public education. The Board of Education claimed these children were unable to be educated due to their “special needs” and believed the cost of providing extra services was too expensive. As a result, they were forced to stay home, without a means to an education. The District of Columbia also chose not to enroll and/or expel/suspend/transfer students due to their disabilities without affording them due process of law. Due process requires a hearing prior to the exclusion or termination of classification into a special program.


The Judge stated that free public education or a suitable alternative education, paid for by the Board of Education, must be provided to all students regardless of their needs and regardless of the cost. Free and public education cannot be denied to a child with a disability unless they are granted due process proceedings.

Ramifications/What’s Important to Remember:

-          No child can be excluded from a free education unless an alternate education service suited for that child’s needs is provided and/or a public hearing and periodic review of the child’s status has been completed.

-          School age children must receive a free and public education regardless of their mental/physical/emotional ability.

-          A child with a disability cannot be suspended for more than two days without a proper hearing. While suspended they also must be provided with an education.

-          The free, public education for students with special needs must go into effect within 30 days of the completion of the trial.

Some Related Cases or Laws:

·         What lead up to this case?

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.


·         What cases followed this case?

Twenty-seven federal court cases followed the Mills decision. These cases lead to the creation of federal laws guaranteeing a public education for all children. In 1975, the Education for all Handicapped Children Act, now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), arranged the right to a free, appropriate public education for all students, including those with severe disabilities. This legislature requires all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education to children with physical and mental disabilities. It also requires that each child have an individualized education program (IEP) that is implemented in the “least restrictive environment” possible. However, the meaning of “appropriate” education is an ongoing source of controversy and litigation.