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Decision No. 13,383

Appeal of JOHN R. and CAROL A. MCGRATH, on behalf of their son, MARK, and LARRY DURAN, on behalf of his son, MICHAEL, from action of the Board of Education of the Marcellus Central School District and John Longuil with regard to the appointment of a lacrosse coach.

Decision No. 13,383

(March 23, 1995)

Satter & Connor, Esqs., attorneys for petitioners, Mimi C. Satter, Esq., of counsel

Bond, Schoeneck & King, Esqs., attorneys for respondents, R. Daniel Bordoni and Raymond J. Pascucci, Esqs., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the decision of the Board of Education of the Marcellus Central School District ("respondent board") to appoint John Longuil varsity lacrosse coach for the 1994 spring season. The appeal must be dismissed.

Respondent John Longuil is a tenured physical education teacher who has been employed by the Marcellus Central School District for over 24 years. On February 15, 1994, respondent board appointed Mr. Longuil varsity lacrosse coach for the spring 1994 season. Prior to that appointment, Mr. Longuil served as the district's varsity football coach for 20 consecutive seasons and as the district's varsity lacrosse coach for 8 seasons.

During the spring of 1994, Mark McGrath was a senior and a member of the varsity lacrosse team. At that time, Michael Duran was a sophomore who allegedly intended to participate in the school's football and lacrosse programs in the future.

The controversy about Mr. Longuil's coaching began sometime in 1992. In May of that year, several parents and students, including petitioner Larry Duran, appeared before respondent board and complained about Mr. Longuil. In response, respondent board directed the superintendent to conduct an investigation.

In May and June of 1992, the superintendent met several times with Mr. Longuil and Mr. Duran. At a June 1992 meeting, Mr. Duran presented the superintendent with letters of complaint and asked that the superintendent keep the names of the complainants confidential. When the superintendent refused to accept the letters under these circumstances, Mr. Duran redacted the complainants' names from the letters. In essence, the letters criticized Mr. Longuil for allegedly lacking game knowledge, showing favoritism towards his son and giving negative feedback to players.

Thereafter, the superintendent met with Mr. Longuil and asked him to respond to each criticism referred to in the letters. The superintendent also discussed Mr. Longuil's performance with the school's athletic director.

At the conclusion of this investigation, the superintendent recommended that the board refrain from taking any action against Mr. Longuil, but suggested that the district monitor him for any future inappropriate conduct. Respondent board accepted this recommendation and charged the superintendent with monitoring Mr. Longuil for any instances of inappropriate behavior. Thereafter, the superintendent directed the district's athletic director to monitor Mr. Longuil's performance. The superintendent also reviewed and discussed with the athletic director Mr. Longuil's 1992 and 1993 performance appraisals, which contained generally high ratings.

Subsequent to the 1992 investigation, two additional complaints about Mr. Longuil were brought to the superintendent's attention. First, in January or February of 1993, petitioners John McGrath and Larry Duran complained about Mr. Longuil's handling of an incident involving an injured football player which occurred during the 1992 football season. Prior to receiving this complaint, the superintendent had been advised that the injured student's father was very impressed with Mr. Longuil's conduct. Nevertheless, upon receiving petitioners' complaint, the superintendent discussed the incident with Mr. Longuil. Based on this discussion, and on the fact that the injured student's father had nothing but praise for Mr. Longuil, respondent board appointed Mr. Longuil lacrosse coach for the 1993 season despite petitioners' complaint. Second, petitioners complained about Mr. Longuil's handling of a December 1993 meeting between college recruiters and Mark McGrath. Petitioners allege that at that meeting Mr. Longuil was perfunctory in his comments about Mark.

Petitioners commenced this appeal and requested a stay of Mr. Longuil's appointment. On March 31, 1994, I denied that request.

Petitioners contend that Mr. Longuil's appointment threatens the physical and psychological well-being of Mark McGrath, Michael Duran and other players and may irreparably harm the scholarship chances of some players. Petitioners also contend that respondent board violated '135.4(c)(7)(i)(e) and '135.4(c)(1)(iii) of the Commissioner's regulations by appointing Mr. Longuil. Petitioners request an order overruling the board's decision to appoint Mr. Longuil as coach of the varsity lacrosse team for the spring 1994 season and directing the board to refrain from appointing Mr. Longuil as coach of any other sports teams in the future.

Respondents contend that petitioners lack standing to appeal

the board's decision. Respondents further contend that the board's decision was made after a thorough investigation into various complaints about Mr. Longuil's coaching style, careful consideration of his record of performance and consideration of the interests of the students.

Before addressing the merits, it is necessary to review several procedural issues. The record reveals that petitioners' reply papers contain new material which was not previously set forth in the petition. A reply is not meant to buttress allegations contained in the petition or to add assertions or exhibits that should have been in the petition and which respondents could have answered (Appeal of Taber, et al., 32 Ed Dept Rep 346; Appeal of Mermelstein, et al., 30 id. 119). Having reviewed the reply materials under the applicable regulations, I find that the affidavits of Donna J. Snow, Gail Murphy and Carol McGrath must be rejected because they present new issues not raised in the petition and are unresponsive to respondents' affirmative defenses (Appeal of Taber, et al., supra). I have considered the remaining reply allegations and affidavits only insofar as they address respondents' affirmative defenses (8 NYCRR 275.14).

In addition, respondents request permission to submit additional affidavits pursuant to 8 NYCRR 276.5. I have considered these additional affidavits to the extent they clarify statements made in respondents' answer and supporting affidavits. Lastly, I have not considered the letter from M.H. which was attached as an exhibit to the petition since it was apparently included without the knowledge or consent of M.H.

Respondents maintain that petitioners lack standing to challenge the board's February 15, 1994 decision. Neither one's status as a resident of a district nor as a parent of a student in the district automatically confers the capacity to seek review of personnel actions of the board of education (Appeal of Chrisfield, 33 Ed Dept Rep 463; Appeal of Reed, et al., 33 id. 216; Appeal of Pecorale, et al., 31 id. 493; Appeal of Strober, 30 id. 4). Rather, an individual must also be aggrieved in the sense that he has suffered personal damage or injury to his or her rights in order to maintain an appeal (Appeal of Ulcena, 33 Ed Dept Rep 328; Appeal of Strober, supra).

Petitioners John and Carol McGrath allege that their son, Mark, was individually affected by the board's decision since he was a member of the varsity lacrosse team. In essence, the McGraths maintain that prior alleged incidents, involving persons other than petitioners, demonstrate that Mr. Longuil's appointment threatened Mark's physical and psychological well-being. The McGraths also maintain that Mr. Longuil mishandled the December 1993 meeting with college recruiters. The McGraths, however, fail to allege that Mr. Longuil actually harmed Mark's scholarship opportunities. In fact, the record fails to show that Mr. Longuil's appointment caused any personal injury to Mark. Accordingly, I find that petitioners John and Carol McGrath lack standing to bring this appeal on behalf of their son, Mark.

I also find that petitioner Larry Duran lacks standing to appeal on behalf of his son, Michael. Petitioner Duran maintains that Michael intends to participate in the district's football and lacrosse teams in future seasons. The record, however, shows that Michael was not a member of the varsity lacrosse team during the spring 1994 season. Moreover, the board's decision of February 15, 1994 only related to the 1994 lacrosse season and did not address any future appointments. Petitioners have not provided any proof that Michael was individually affected by the board's decision. Accordingly, petitioner Larry Duran's claim on behalf of his son, Michael, must be dismissed.

The appeal is also untimely. An appeal to the Commissioner of Education must be instituted within 30 days from the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of (8 NYCRR 275.16). Although petitioners maintain that they are appealing the board's February 15, 1994 decision, the record indicates that petitioners actually challenge the findings of the superintendent and respondent board in response to the complaints made in 1992. Petitioners also challenge Mr. Longuil's handling of an incident which occurred during the 1992 football season and his handling of a December 1993 meeting. Since this appeal was not commenced until March 15, 1994, it must be dismissed as untimely.

The appeal must also be dismissed on the merits. The assignment of duties to teachers is a matter within the discretion of the board of education and such decisions will not be disturbed absent a showing that the board has acted arbitrarily, capriciously or contrary to the best interests of the children involved (Appeal of Ruggiero, 20 Ed Dept Rep 347). I cannot say, based on the record, that respondent board abused its discretion in this matter.

The record indicates that in 1992, petitioner Larry Duran presented the superintendent with letters of complaint from students and parents. The record further indicates that in response to the complaints, the superintendent conducted an investigation. The superintendent alleges that he confronted Mr. Longuil with the letters and Mr. Longuil responded to each criticism. In addition, the superintendent discussed Mr. Longuil's performance with the school's athletic director. Based on this investigation, the superintendent recommended to the board that no action be taken against Mr. Longuil. Petitioners maintain that this investigation was inadequate since the superintendent did not interview the complainants. Petitioners, however, do not submit any evidence that interviewing these persons would have altered the outcome of the investigation.

Furthermore, the record shows that the superintendent continued to monitor Mr. Longuil for any instances of inappropriate behavior. Other than the two additional complaints previously mentioned, no other allegations of wrongdoing were lodged against Mr. Longuil. In addition, Mr. Longuil's 1992 and 1993 performance appraisals were generally positive. Finally, the record indicates that Mr. Longuil was selected by his peers as Division III "Coach of the Year" for the 1992-93 lacrosse season.

Petitioners also maintain that the incident involving an injured student, which occurred during the 1992 football season, demonstrates that Mr. Longuil is a danger to the physical well-being of his players. The record, however, fails to show that Mr. Longuil endangered the physical well-being of this student. In fact, the student's father states in an affidavit that Mr. Longuil handled the situation properly. Accordingly, I find that this incident fails to show that Mr. Longuil is a danger to the physical well-being of his players.

Petitioners further allege that Mr. Longuil may harm the scholarship opportunities of some of his players. To the extent petitioners attempt to represent the interests of other students, this claim must be dismissed for lack of standing (Appeal of Allert, 32 Ed Dept Rep 538). Moreover, there is no evidence in the record that Mr. Longuil's appointment actually harmed the scholarship opportunities of Mark McGrath or any other student.

Lastly, petitioners maintain that respondent board violated 8 NYCRR 135.4(c)(7)(i)(e) and 135.4(c)(1)(iii). Section 135.4(c)(1) (iii) states that in each school district "there shall be opportunity provided for participation in appropriate extra-class activities." Section 135.4(c)(7)(i)(e) provides that it is the duty of a board of education "to give primary consideration to the well-being of individual boys and girls in the conduct of games and sports." Based on the record, and for the reasons already discussed, I cannot find a violation of either of these sections.

I have reviewed petitioners' remaining contentions and find them without merit.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

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