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Decision No. 13,693

Appeal of KENNETH ANDELA, on behalf of his son, CHRISTOPHER, from action of the Board of Education of the Mount Markham Central School District, regarding admission to the National Honor Society.

Decision No. 13,693

(October 17, 1996)

Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Craig M. Atlas, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the refusal of the Board of Education of the Mount Markham Central School District ("respondent") to admit his son Christopher into the National Honor Society ("NHS"). The appeal must be sustained in part.

In the 1995-96 school year, Christopher completed eleventh grade and applied for admission to the NHS. On or about March 19, 1996, petitioner received a letter from the advisors of the NHS stating Christopher's acceptance into the NHS. On March 21, 1996, petitioner's wife mentioned her son's selection to the NHS to the spouse of one of the members of the Faculty Council responsible for selecting members to the NHS. That individual conveyed the conversation to the Faculty Council member, who did not recall that petitioner's son had been selected for admission to the NHS. The faculty council member then contacted the high school principal, John Skahill, who, after checking with the NHS advisors, determined that Christopher's name was not on the list of those selected.

On March 22, 1996, Mr. Skahill contacted petitioner's wife and informed her that Christopher had not, in fact, been selected by the Faculty Council for membership in the NHS, and that her family had been mistakenly sent the wrong form letter which was intended for another student, also with the last name Andela. The substance of this conversation was confirmed in a letter to petitioner dated March 25, 1996. Petitioner then contacted respondent in an attempt to gain a reversal of the decision of the Faculty Council. By letter dated March 27, 1996, respondent's president informed petitioner and his wife that they had reviewed the matter with Mr. Skahill and had determined that they could not overrule the Faculty Council's selection decision. Petitioner commenced this appeal on April 19, 1996 seeking to overturn respondent's determination not to disturb the decision of the Faculty Council.

A decision regarding admission to the NHS is left to the discretion of the local board of education and its faculty and will not be set aside unless that decision is arbitrary, capricious and without a rational basis (Appeal of Friedberg, 34 Ed Dept Rep 284; Appeal of Brenner, 25 id. 219; Appeal of Torre-Tasso, 25 id. 47). The record reveals that respondent has adopted a policy whereby students with an overall grade point average of at least 87.5 are invited to be considered for membership in the NHS. An eligible student who desires consideration submits a student activity information form which provides information in support of his or her candidacy. This information assists the Faculty Council in assessing each candidate's leadership and service. The NHS advisors also provide the teachers of NHS candidates an opportunity to rate each of the candidates with whom they are familiar for character and leadership, as well as scholarship in the teacher's subject area. Faculty members are also asked for their recommendations as to whether candidates should be selected for membership in the NHS. In order to be selected to the NHS, a student must receive the affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the Faculty Council. The Faculty Council in this instance voted not to select petitioner's son for membership in the NHS, although a congratulatory form letter indicating his selection was mistakenly sent to petitioner.

In this case, it appears that in reviewing the Faculty Council's decision, respondent was affected by an erroneous view of its role and responsibility in the selection of students to the NHS. Specifically, in its letter to petitioner, respondent's president indicated that "As a Board of Education, we do not have the ability to over-rule a selection decision per the bylaws" (emphasis added).

First, it is unclear to what "bylaws" refers, since the record indicates that contrary to the requirements set out in the NHS handbook, respondent has not adopted bylaws. However, to the extent that respondent's president was referring to the NHS handbook, his statements are contrary to the provisions set forth in that handbook, which specifically envision that a local board of education will review non- selection decisions of the Faculty Council following a review of such decisions by the school principal.

Article V. of the NHS constitution provides in section 3 that:

"The principal shall be a part of the local school district appeal process for non-selection or dismissal cases."

The commentary on the constitution provides in its discussion of the role of the principal that:

"at the local level, the principal reserves the right to approve all activities and decisions of the chapter. This authority extends to selection and dismissal of members. The principal is not a member of the voting faculty council. The principal shall be a part of the local school district appeal process for non-selection or dismissal cases."

Finally, under the section entitled "Frequently Asked Questions", question 6 states:

"Who is the final authority on chapter affairs-selection, projects, disciplinary action, etc.?

Answer: As stated in the constitution, the principal reserves the right to approve all activities and decisions of the chapter ... Appeals of the principal's decision would go through the normal school channels (i.e., superintendent of the schools or school board)."

Therefore, contrary to the statements contained in respondent's letter dated March 27, 1996, the local board of education does, indeed, have the ability to review selection decisions of the Faculty Council after an initial appeal to the principal. In addition, the form letter sent to eligible students is misleading in its statement that "... a five member faculty council will review each candidate's credentials; their decision will be final" (emphasis added). Therefore, respondent should consider the merits of petitioner's appeal of the non-selection of his son and render a decision accordingly. Further, respondent should ensure that the chapter officials adopt appropriate by-laws as required by Article XVII of the NHS constitution.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED TO THE EXTENT INDICATED.

IT IS ORDERED that respondent review the non-selection of petitioner's son to the National Honor Society.

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