BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., DAN M. LEE AND ROBERTSON, JJ.
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
This appeal presents important questions regarding the authority of the public school officials of this state in student discipline matters. By virtue of legislative enactments, school administrators have been vested with substantial discretionary authority respecting such matters, although none that may not be exercised consistent with federal and state constitutions.
Today's case involves two high school students who defaced school property by painting on it. The school board determined that the students should be suspended for a semester. Upon application of the students and their parents, the Chancery Court enjoined enforcement of the suspension. For the reasons explained below, we hold that under the facts of this case the punishments sought to be imposed are within the authority vested by law in the school board. We reverse and render.
At 3:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, September 3, 1984, Tina Byrd and Lisa Moore were discovered by the police on the grounds of Clinton High School in Clinton, Mississippi, thus interrupting the painting of a three foot high "1" on a brick wall adjacent to the flag pole. At the time the two girls were enrolled in the eleventh grade in Clinton High School which is owned, operated and maintained by the Clinton Municipal Separate School District, Defendant below and Appellant here (sometimes hereinafter "the school board"). Tina Byrd and her parents and Lisa Moore and her parents are all resident citizens of Clinton, Mississippi, were Plaintiffs below and are Appellees here.
Lisa and Tina have chosen not to supply additional information concerning the painting incident, although it is apparent they were not acting alone. The record leaves us in the dark regarding the object of the girls' prank - proclaiming "We're No. 1" , making prominent the girls' graduation class year, or surely some similarly sophomoric (as to means) display of school spirit.
On the morning of September 4, 1984, Dr. Ramey Beavers, principal of Clinton High School, met individually with the girls. He explained to them the section of the student handbook stating the school policy regarding defacement of buildings and other school property. The school policy there published mandates suspension for the remainder of the current school semester. Both girls signed a discipline report. Their parents were contacted and informed of the school's
proposed disciplinary action and of the students' rights of appeal within the school system.
The girls and their parents immediately sought and obtained from the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, a temporary restraining order allowing the girls to continue attending school until a hearing could be heard before the school board. See Rule 65 (b), Miss. R. Civ. P. Clinton Municipal Separate School District sought to dissolve the temporary restraining order but were unsuccessful.
On September 11, 1984, the school board heard the appeals of Tina and Lisa. Both parents and attorneys were permitted to address the board on behalf of the girls. The board voted unanimously to uphold the principal's recommendation that the students be suspended for the remainder of the then current school semester in accordance with the school policy.
On September 14, 1984, the parties were back in chancery court as the Byrds and the Moores pressed their application that the temporary restraining order be made a permanent injunction. Following plenary hearing on the merits, the Court on October 10, 1984, entered final judgment in favor of the Byrds and Moores enjoining the school board from suspending the two girls but affirming the right of the board to impose any form of punishment which may fit the offense which was committed by these students ". This appeal has followed.
The parties have largely agreed both in their briefs and at oral argument regarding the content of the dispositive rules of law. School authorities have substantial but not unlimited discretion in student disciplinary matters. The facts likewise are essentially undisputed. These two students were admittedly involved in painting a large" 1 "on the brick wall of the school building. The parties even agree that this conduct violated a school rule the primary portion of which is valid and that some punishment was and is appropriate.
The parties differ regarding the permissible extent of such punishment. The Byrds and the Moores argue that suspension for a full semester is impermissibly severe in that it is a punishment substantially disproportionate to the" crime ". The Chancery Court accepted this argument. The school board, on the other hand, argues that the punishment selected is one which under these facts it has authority to inflict without judicial interference. The school board's view is the legally correct one.
The Mississippi legislature has provided the governing bodies of local schools with substantial authority to regulate the activities of students and punish students for violation of school policies. Miss. Code Ann. 37-7-301 (Supp. 1984) provides:
Powers and duties of boards of trustees.
The board of trustees of school districts shall have the following powers, authority and duties in addition to all others ...