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Decision No. 13,701

Appeal of NICHOLAS and DEBORAH DAMADEO, on behalf of EVAN DAMADEO; JOSEPH LUCANIA and MARIA LUCANIA, on behalf of DOUGLAS LUCANIA and TAYLOR LUCANIA; JOHN BONLARRON and MARIA BONLARRON, on behalf of CHRISTINA BONLARRON and LEANNA BONLARRON; GREGORY SMESTAD and STACY SMESTAD, on behalf of ANDIE LEIGH SMESTAD; STEVEN COTSALAS and DONNA COTSALAS, on behalf of STEVEN COTSALAS; RALPH DREWES and MARY ELLEN DREWES, on behalf of KRISTEN DREWES; PETER SCHOEPE and SUSAN SCHOEPE, on behalf of ANDREW SCHOEPE; LYNN GIACCOTO, on behalf of STEPHANIE SAPERSTEIN; LENORA GROSHANS, on behalf of JESSICA GROSHANS; WAYNE LOCANTHI and JANET LOCANTHI, on behalf of HEATHER LOCANTHI and RENEE LOCANTHI; SHERYL MOORE, on behalf of DANIEL MOORE; ROBIN ROSSI and DENISE ROSSI, on behalf of GINA ROSSI; THALIA STAVRIDES, on behalf of MELISSA WNOROWSKI; MARTIN DELEYER and DEBRA DELEYER, on behalf of TRAVIS DELEYER; ROBERT WILLIAMS and DIANE WILLIAMS, on behalf of JENNIFER WILLIAMS; SHARON GUZZI, on behalf of JENNIFER GUZZI; FREDERICK HEUER, on behalf of SAMANTHA HEUER; ROBERT BOHLEN and HELEN BOHLEN, on behalf of HELEN WILSON; HERMAN HUCKE and DONNA HUCKE, on behalf of CODY HUCKE; PHILLIP DEGRUCCIO and ANTOINETTE DEGRUCCIO, on behalf of ANTOINETTE DEGRUCCIO from action of the Board of Education of the Hauppauge Union Free School District regarding attendance zones.

Decision No. 13,701

(November 14, 1996)

Nicholas J. Damadeo, P.C., attorney for petitioners

Cahn Wishod & Lamb, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Robert H. Cohen, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the adoption of a school district reorganization plan by the Board of Education of the Hauppauge Union Free School District ("respondent"). The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners are the parents of students who reside in an area of respondent's district known as "the Pines" and who previously attended the Pines Elementary School. Prior to 1990, respondent's district contained three elementary schools; Pines, Bretton Woods and Forest Brook. In 1989, respondent voted to close Forest Brook due to decreased student enrollment and subsequently reopened Forest Brook as a kindergarten center. On March 12, 1996, respondent voted to reopen Forest Brook as an elementary school to relieve overcrowding. At that time, respondent determined that a study was necessary to analyze district demographics and to evaluate attendance boundaries for the three elementary schools. The study, dated April 23, 1996, analyzed five different options for boundary configurations.

On April 30, 1996, respondent held a meeting to vote on the attendance boundaries. Petitioners allege that discussions concerning the options occurred privately and in violation of the Open Meetings Law, an issue subsequently litigated by petitioners. At the meeting, respondent stated that the interim superintendent had recommended Option 4. At the April 30th meeting, the interim superintendent described the reservoir area of the Pines as being adjacent to the Forest Brook attendance zone. After public discussion, respondent voted unanimously in favor of Option 4. That option required petitioners' children to relocate from the Pines Elementary School to Forest Brook. This appeal ensued. Petitioners' request for interim relief pending a decision on the merits was denied on June 7, 1996.

Petitioners subsequently commenced two actions in Supreme Court seeking reversal of respondent's decision to redistrict the elementary schools. One action was begun in Suffolk County Supreme Court and dismissed by order of Justice Henry on July 29, 1996 on the basis that even if an Open Meetings Law violation occurred, it was insufficient to void the public action taken by respondent. The second action was commenced in Albany County Supreme Court and sought interim relief reversing the Commissioner's stay determination. The request for interim relief was denied by Judge Ceresia on August 30, 1996.

Petitioners allege that respondent's redistricting decision was not in the students' best educational interests, that the adoption of Option 4 was arbitrary and capricious and that the vote on redistricting was done without sufficient discussion by board members regarding the merits of the various options. Petitioners seek a determination annulling respondent's decision to adopt Option 4 or a determination that respondent redistrict pursuant to Option 1, or a determination that Option 4 be modified to keep petitioners' children in the Pines Elementary School. Respondent contends that its actions were proper and that decisions regarding school reorganization are within the broad discretion of the board of education.

Education Law '1709(33) authorizes a board of education to manage and administer the affairs of a school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Matter of Older, et al. v. Board of Education, 27 NY2d 333, 318 NYS2d 129; Appeal of Shaw, et al., 34 Ed Dept Rep 521; Appeal of Parrish, 32 id. 261; Appeal of Cullen, 32 id. 179). A board of education has broad discretion in its assignment of pupils to schools (Appeal of Parrish, supra; Matter of Addabbo v. Donovan, 22 AD2d 383, 256 NYS2d 178, aff'd 16 NY2d 619, 261 NYS2d 68, cert den 382 US 905). Accordingly, a board's decision to reorganize its schools will only be overturned when found to be arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older, supra; Appeal of Parrish, supra). Moreover, petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that respondent's action is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeal of Sherwood, et al., 33 Ed Dept Rep 410; Appeal of McNerney, et al., 28 id. 250; Appeal of Malang, 26 id. 134). I find that petitioners have failed to meet that burden of proof.

Petitioners challenge the method whereby respondent adopted Option 4, the rationale for that choice and the determination's impact on their children. While I am sympathetic to petitioners' concern regarding the longer bus ride to the Forest Brook Elementary School, the disruption that a change of school can bring, and the fact that petitioners believe that respondent failed to analyze the redistricting data properly and did not take their concerns into account in reaching its determination, I find no legal basis in the record to grant the relief petitioners seek. While petitioners clearly disagree with respondent's determination, the record indicates that respondent considered the options, discussed those options at two board meetings, accepted public comment regarding the proposed attendance zones and ultimately voted for Option 4. I conclude that respondent's decision in this matter is not arbitrary, capricious nor contrary to sound educational policy and therefore, will not disturb it.

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

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE