Brief Fact Summary.
New Perspectives, an almost entirely publicly-funded school, fired some teachers and a vocational counselor for supporting student criticisms against various school policies. The discharged staff brought suit in federal court.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A state normally can be held responsible for a private decision only when it has exercised coercive power or has provided such significant encouragement that the choice must be deemed to be that of the state.
Here the decisions to discharge the petitioners were not compelled or even influenced by any state regulation.View Full Point of Law
New Perspectives is a private school located in Massachusetts, specializing in handling with students who have experienced difficulty completing public high schools. Nearly all of the students at the school are referred by the Brookline or Boston school committees, or by the Drug Rehabilitation Division of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. Public funds account for at least 90% of the school’s operating budget. The school must comply with a variety of detailed regulations concerning matters ranging from recordkeeping to student-teacher ratios. The regulations require the school to maintain personnel standards and procedures, but they impose few specific requirements.
Plaintiffs were teachers and a vocational counselor who were discharged by the school for supporting student criticisms against various school policies.
Can the school’s action in discharging the staff be properly classified as state action?
No, the school’s action in discharging the staff cannot be properly classified as state action.
It is difficult to imagine a closer relationship between a government and private enterprise. The school’s very survival depends on the state. If the state chooses, it may exercise complete control over the school’s operations simply by threatening to withdraw financial support if the school takes action that it considers objectionable. Almost every decision the school makes is substantially affected in some way by the state’s regulations.
The state should not be permitted to avoid constitutional requirements simply by delegating its statutory duty to a private entity.
The decisions to discharge the Plaintiffs were not compelled or even influenced by any state regulation. The most intrusive personnel regulation promulgated by the various government agencies was the requirement that the Committee on Criminal Justice had the power to approve persons hired as vocational counselors. Such a regulation is not sufficient to make a decision to discharge, made by private management, state action.
Additionally, the fact that a private entity performs a function which serves the public does not make its acts state action. The school’s fiscal relationship with the state is not different from that of many contractors performing services for the government.