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Larry P. v. Riles

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
793 F.2d 969 (9th Cir. 1984)


The State of California created programs for categories of students with educational problems in the mid-1960s. The educable mentally retarded (EMR) program was for students of retarded intellectual development who were considered incapable of regular instruction, but who could benefit from special education to become economically useful and socially adjusted. Students with more severe retardation were placed in the trainable mentally retarded (TMR) program. There were other programs for students with cultural or economic disadvantages or minor learning disorders that were designed to enable the students to rejoin the regular-education classroom. The EMR program was not designed to help students return to regular instructional programs. Students were placed into the various programs depending on the results of an intelligence quotient (IQ) test. Black students scored, on average, 15 points lower than white students on these IQ tests. The tests were standardized and developed from an all-white population. Initially, sample tests yielded different scores for boys and girls, but the tests were adjusted to eliminate this difference. No adjustment was ever attempted to eliminate the difference between races. As a result, approximately 2 percent of white children fell below the threshold for EMR placement, while approximately 15 percent of black students fell below the same threshold. No other information, such as teacher recommendations, adaptive behavior, and social and cultural background, was used in determining placement. Several black elementary-school students (plaintiffs) sued the San Francisco Unified School District, the State Board of Public Instruction, and related government officials (defendants), alleging that the use of the IQ tests violated the Rehabilitation Act, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court found for the plaintiffs and enjoined the defendants from using IQ tests to determine EMR placement for black students. The defendants appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Poole, J.)

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