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Decision No. 14,033

Appeal of NANCY PONTE, on behalf of ANDREW PONTE, from action of the Board of Education of the Locust Valley Central School District regarding fund-raising activities.

Decision No. 14,033

(November 23, 1998)

Ehrlich, Frazer & Feldman, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, Jerome H. Ehrlich, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from action of the Board of Education of the Locust Valley Central School District ("respondent") permitting certain fund-raising activities in its public schools. The appeal must be sustained.

Petitioner's son attended Bayville Intermediate School in respondent's school district during the 1996-97 school year. On February 14, 1997, the student's fifth grade physical education class participated in events identified as "Jump Rope for Hearts" and "Hoops for Hearts", a fund-raising activity sponsored by the school's PTA. The event was conducted as part of the physical education curriculum to promote cardiovascular fitness through physical activity and education, while raising funds to help the American Heart Association (AHA). The program was developed by the AHA and is targeted toward elementary/middle school students. Students are expected to collect pledges from the community for the student to raise money by jumping rope or shooting baskets in school during a designated class period. The record indicates that physical education teachers at Bayville Intermediate School designated Friday, February 14, 1997 as the date on which the fifth grade physical education class would shoot baskets to raise money for the AHA in the "Hoops for Hearts" program. A letter notifying parents of the event was mailed to parents by respondent's physical education teachers on school district letterhead. After the students participated in the "Hoops for Hearts" event by shooting baskets on February 14, they collected their pledges off school grounds and brought the pledge money to school during the period from March 5 to March 7, 1997, where parent volunteers collected these funds in the school's main hallway. School district staff distributed prizes during the school day to students based upon their success in achieving designated pledge goals.

Petitioner contacted respondent's superintendent of schools to express her concerns about the fund-raising activities, indicating in a letter dated April 7, 1997 that she believed respondent was in violation of Regents Rule 19.6 (8 NYCRR "19.6) which prohibits the direct solicitation of charitable donations from children in the public schools during school hours. By letter dated April 18, 1997 respondent's superintendent of schools responded to petitioner, stating that the manner in which the fund-raising activities were conducted was not in violation of 8 Rule 19.6. This appeal ensued.

Petitioner claims the respondent violated Rule 19.6 in several respects. She contends that permitting students to engage in activities to raise pledge money for a charitable organization such as the AHA during the school day and on school grounds is an impermissible direct solicitation of charitable funds from students in violation of Rule 19.6. In addition, petitioner claims that distributing prizes during the school day to students based upon their success in achieving designated pledge goals violates the spirit of Rule 19.6, as students who do not raise sufficient funds to earn a prize are likely to feel embarrassed or humiliated. Petitioner contends that students should be free of such pressure while attending school.

Respondent argues that the appeal is untimely and that, substantively, it is without merit. Respondent claims that because the students collected pledges and pledge money off school grounds, the fund-raising activity does not violate Rule 19.6. Respondent also argues that participation in the activity is voluntary, students are not required to solicit any pledges and that the prizes are actually awarded by the AHA, not the school district. Finally, respondent claims that the activity serves an educational purpose in that it promotes teamwork, community service and cardiovascular fitness through rope jumping and basket shooting as part of the physical education curriculum.

I will first address respondent's procedural claim that the appeal is untimely. Section 275.16 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education requires that an appeal be initiated within 30 days of the action or decision complained of. Respondent asserts that the "Jump Rope/Hoops for Hearts" activities which are the subject of the appeal occurred on February 14, 1997, and that March 7, 1997 was the last day pledge checks were collected. Petitioner initiated her appeal by service of a petition on May 6, 1997. However, the record indicates that petitioner attempted to resolve her complaints about the fund-raising activity at the local level prior to bringing this appeal. On April 7, 1997 she wrote to respondent's superintendent of schools setting forth her concerns. By letter dated April 18, 1997 respondent's superintendent replied to petitioner addressing her complaints, but concluding that the manner in which the Jump Rope/Hoops for Hearts fund-raising activity was conducted was permissible under Rule 19.6. Petitioner appealed that determination on May 6, 1997 within the required thirty day period. Therefore, the appeal is timely.

Turning to the merits, 8 NYCRR "19.6 provides,

Solicitation of charitable donations. Direct solicitation of charitable funds from children in the public schools shall not be permitted on school property during school hours. The Commissioner shall develop and disseminate guidelines on the interpretation of this rule.

In January 1994 Counsel to the Board of Regents issued guidelines approved by the Regents to assist school districts in complying with Rule 19.6. As noted in the guidelines and in the legislative history of the rule, the Regents' intent in adopting Rule 19.6 was "to guarantee public school children a learning environment free from the pressure of peers or adults to make charitable contributions to selected organizations."

There are three types of activities which the Rule does not proscribe. First, Rule 19.6 does not prohibit activities which take place off school premises or outside of regular school hours. Thus, recruitment of children during school hours for participation in activities is permissible, as long as the activities themselves occur off school premises or outside of school hours. Nor does the Rule prohibit arms-length transactions where the contributor receives a consideration for his donation. Thus, the rule does not prohibit the sale of goods or tickets for concerts or social events where the proceeds go to charity, because the purchaser receives a consideration – the concert or social – for the funds expended. Finally, it is not the intent of Rule 19.6 to prohibit indirect forms of charitable solicitation on school premises that do not involve coercion, such as placing a bin or collection box in a hallway or other common area for the donation of food, clothing, or money. In these instances, the collection activity is passive, and no pressure is exerted upon students to participate.

In this instance, students collected pledges for the AHA off school premises. However, the record indicates that respondent's physical education teachers sent promotional letters on school district letterhead home with students to inform parents that the fund-raising activity would be part of the school's physical education program, to encourage the collection of pledges and, subsequently, to instruct students regarding the collection of checks and selection of prizes. Moreover, the obligation to pay the money pledged for rope-jumping or "hoop" shooting did not accrue until the student performed the activity in physical education class. But for the class activity, no money would have been raised. Thus, the activity to secure the pledges took place as part of respondent's physical education curriculum conducted on school grounds during the regular school day.

The intent of Rule 19.6 is to insulate children in school from coercive solicitation of funds for charities while they are compelled by law to be in the classroom. This is apparent in the limiting language of the regulation prohibiting solicitation "on school property during school hours". As noted in the legislative history of Rule 19.6, the support of charities through solicitation of funds is beneficial to the public good. It promotes social responsibility and good character. However, the parameters for conducting such activities in school are clear. The solicitation of charitable donations cannot become intertwined with respondent's educational responsibilities, so as to make the two processes indiscernible. The guidelines provide that the school may not be used as a conduit to collect money earned on behalf of charitable organizations. Here, the activity became part of the physical education curriculum. Physical education staff promoted and directed the activity. The funds raised accrued during class time on school grounds. Members of the PTA stood in the school's main hallway to collect pledge money, and AHA prizes for the achievement of designated pledge goals were distributed to students during the school day. This level of activity belies the intent and purpose of Rule 19.6 which is to protect children required to attend public school from the coercion inherent in the direct solicitation of funds while they are a captive audience, compelled by law to be in the classroom. After reviewing the manner in which this fund-raising event was conducted in respondent's school district, I cannot conclude that the event constituted a passive or indirect solicitation of donations permitted under Rule 19.6. Instead, the record indicates that the event essentially was a direct solicitation of funds by virtue of the teachers' promotional letters, accrual of donations during physical education class and, finally, by collection of the donations in the school's hallway. Moreover, the fact that the activity was sponsored by the PTA does not alter this result. Rule 19.6 does not contain any exceptions for charitable fund-raising by students or for school-related organizations, such a parent-teacher associations.

For the above reasons, I find respondent's conduct of the "Jump Rope/Hoops for Hearts" event, as described in this appeal, violated 8 NYCRR "19.6.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that respondent is prohibited in the future from holding the "Jump Rope/Hoops for Hearts" fund-raising event described in this appeal and that all future solicitations of charitable donations be conducted in compliance with 8 NYCRR "19.6.

END OF FILE