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Decision No. 13,524

Appeal of WENDY CARTER, from action of the Board of Education of the Bath Central School District regarding filming on school grounds.

Decision No. 13,524

(December 8, 1995)

Hogan & Sarzynski, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, John B. Hogan, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges respondent's handling of her complaints concerning the filming of a school building for background footage in a television program. The appeal must be dismissed.

In the fall of 1994, respondent permitted a television crew from the American Broadcasting Company ("ABC") onto district property to film background footage for a story which was the subject of an episode of the television program "Turning Point." The background footage, which comprised less than 20 seconds of the one hour program, showed an empty classroom, a school bus and the outside of a school building. In some footage there were students present, but they were not identifiable. The subject of the "Turning Point" episode was a local murder case that had caused a tremendous amount of controversy in the small community in which respondent's school district lies. Petitioner is unhappy that respondent authorized the filming.

Petitioner seeks an order making the petition a matter of public record, and directing respondent to satisfactorily respond to her complaints, use better judgment in the future and follow the guidelines set forth in its "News Media Relations" policy. In support of her petition, she attaches correspondence between herself and respondent beginning January 27, 1995 and ending April 10, 1995, purportedly demonstrating respondent's failure to satisfactorily address her complaints. Respondent denies that it failed to respond to petitioner's complaints.

The record reveals that petitioner's first letter expresses her unhappiness with respondent's decision to permit ABC to film in its district when other districts purportedly denied similar requests. Respondent replied that it would take the matter under advisement. Petitioner wrote back and again asked why respondent granted permission to film and requested a copy of the district's policy on such matters. Respondent, in turn, supplied petitioner with a policy entitled "News Media Relations" and informed her that the school principal was in charge of all shots and that no identification of the building or students was permitted. Respondent also indicated that her complaint would be reviewed by its policy committee to see if the existing policy adequately addresses such situations. After receiving a copy of the "News Media Relations" policy, petitioner raised a new set of questions. Specifically, she wanted to know whether the superintendent consented to the filming, the purpose of the filming and the superintendent's rationale for granting permission. Respondent replied that it had reviewed her complaints and considered the matter closed.

Respondent's "News Media Relations" policy states:

The Board of Education invites and welcomes the active participation of all forms of mass media in promoting the cause of good education within the district and elsewhere. The Board encourages suggestions and advice from representatives of the media as to how best to facilitate the flow of information to them from the Board and others within the school system.

All staff desiring to release information to the media should first notify the Building Principal. The Superintendent of Schools shall establish all necessary procedures to govern day-to-day interactions between the schools and the news media.

Before reaching the merits, I will address a procedural issue. It appears from the record that respondent has attempted to address petitioner's concerns, albeit not to her satisfaction. It is apparent that the real issue is that respondent permitted the filming, which was ultimately broadcast on national television. Because the Commissioner of Education will only decide matters in actual controversy, and will not render a decision concerning a dispute which subsequent events have laid to rest, the appeal is moot (Appeal of Brown, 34 Ed Dept Rep 33; Appeal of Paye, 33 id. 241; Appeal of Vachon, 28 id. 276).

With respect to the merits, the petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested (8 NYCRR '275.10; Appeal of Friedberg, 34 Ed Dept Rep 284; Appeal of Gaslow, 34 id. 293; Appeal of Singh, 30 id. 284). Having reviewed petitioner's complaint and the supporting documentation, it is clear that petitioner has failed to articulate a claim upon which relief may be granted. Understandably, petitioner is upset about having her community and school associated with a tragic, but notorious murder case. The fact that respondent allowed a news program to do some filming on district property, does not, in and of itself, form the basis for any relief.

The only plausible ground for relief would be that respondent failed to follow its own "News Media Relations" policy. Petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that such policy is applicable to the instant matter and that respondent failed to follow it (8 NYCRR '275.10). I find that petitioner has failed to meet that burden. Other than her conclusory statement that respondent should be directed to follow such policy in the future, there are no allegations that respondent failed to follow it in this matter, or that it even applies to this situation.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE