The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 2 yesterday that public school officials may not unilaterally take handicapped children out of their classes or schools even when those students may be disruptive or dangerous.

The court said Congress, in passing the 1975 Education of the Handicapped Act, specifically wanted to limit the power of school officials to exclude disabled students from public schools over their parents' objections.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr., writing for the court in a case affecting an estimated 8 million disabled children, said that did not mean school officials are powerless to deal with disruptive students. They could suspend an unruly student for up to 10 days and then ask a court to allow them to take the student out of the class, he said.

Brennan, joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Byron R. White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, said "the language of {the act} is unequivocal." Brennan said the legislative debate over the law, passed to ensure a "free appropriate public education" for disabled children, "makes clear {that} one of the evils Congress sought to remedy was the unilateral exclusion of disabled children by schools . . ."

Brennan said the law was passed "to prevent school officials from removing a child from the regular public school classroom over the parents' objections pending completion of the review proceedings.

Yesterday's decision in Honig v. Doe, involved two emotionally disturbed students in San Francisco who were suspended indefinitely for violent and disruptive conduct pending the completion of expulsion proceedings. A federal district court judge and an appeals court ruled that the indefinite suspension violated the law's requirement that the student "stay put" in his current program while parents and administrators work out a change in status.

California officials argued that Congress could not have intended the "stay put" provision literally because that would mean that schools must allow violent or dangerous students to return to school while lengthy review proceedings went on.

"We think it clear," Brennan said, "that Congress very much meant to strip schools of the unilateral authority they had traditionally employed to exclude disabled students, particularly emotionally disturbed students, from school."

The law, Brennan said, "directed that in the future the removal of disabled students could be accomplished only with the permission of the parents or, as a last resort, the courts." In court, officials can overcome the "stay put" presumption only by showing that the student is likely to harm himself or others.

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, dissented, "without expressing any views on the merits of this case." Scalia said he felt the court could not act because the controversy was moot.

The court also heard arguments yesterday in a case on whether newspapers could be held in contempt for violating court orders not to publish certain information, amid strong indications that some justices felt the case should be dismissed on procedural grounds.

A U.S. District Court judge fined the Providence Journal $100,000 and ordered its executive editor to perform 200 hours of community service when the paper decided to publish an article based on FBI wiretaps of reputed mobster Raymond L.S. Patriarca, who died in 1984, and his son. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the contempt finding.

Much of the argument in U.S. v. Providence Journal focused on whether the case was properly before the high court because a private attorney appointed by the judge appealed the circuit ruling to the high court without the authorization of Attorney General Edwin Meese III or the solicitor general. Under federal law, those two officials must authorize all cases brought on behalf of the government.