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Decision No. 14,525

Appeal of REBECCA ARMELLA, on behalf of VINCENT ARMELLA, and KAREN MACINTYRE, on behalf of GRANT MACINTYRE, from action of the Board of Education of the Brocton Central School District regarding class rank.

Decision No. 14,525

(December 22, 2000)

Hodgson, Russ, Andrews, Woods & Goodyear, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Jeff Swiatek, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the refusal of the Board of Education of the Brocton Central School District ("respondent") to change its class rank policy. The appeal must be dismissed.

Vincent Armella and Grant MacIntyre were juniors at respondent’s high school during the 1999-2000 school year. At the end of the first semester of their junior year, Vincent was ranked number three in the class and Grant was ranked first. In February 2000, petitioners became aware of respondent’s policy for the computation of a student’s class rank. Under this policy, the grade that a student is awarded for a BOCES vocational education class is counted as four grades for purposes of determining a student’s grade point average (GPA) and class rank. The rationale for this policy is that a BOCES class is approximately four times longer than a typical forty minute high school class.

At various times during March 2000, petitioners met with respondent’s high school guidance counselor, Robert Wright, then school board president, Tom DeJoe, and school superintendent, Richard Thom, to discuss the policy. Mr. DeJoe informed petitioners that the district’s policy concerning the ranking of students was under review by a policy committee and an outside consultant.

During their meeting with Mr. Thom, petitioners requested permission to attend an executive session of respondent board on April 6, 2000, to explain their objections to the class rank policy. This request was granted and petitioners made an extensive presentation to respondent at its April 6 meeting. Respondent did not make a decision at this meeting. Petitioners subsequently attended respondent’s policy committee meeting on May 2, 2000, and requested a response to their April 6 presentation. The policy committee informed them that a final decision would be made at respondent’s next meeting on May 18, 2000. At the May 18 meeting, petitioners were informed that the policy would not be changed with respect to the weight afforded to BOCES grades for the purpose of calculating a student’s class rank. However, respondent did agree to incorporate the grades students earned for college courses completed while enrolled in the high school in computing the class rank of students beginning in the 2000-2001 school year. This appeal ensued.

Petitioners contend that respondent’s policy of counting one BOCES grade four times in computing a student’s GPA and class rank is arbitrary and capricious. They assert that there is no written policy concerning either the weighting of BOCES grades or the actual computation of a student’s class rank. They further allege that the existing class rank policy is not included in student handbooks and is not readily available to students or parents. Petitioners also contend that respondent’s current policy, which does not incorporate the grades earned by a student for college level courses in the computation of the student’s class rank, is unfair.

Petitioner Armella alleges that her son has been harmed by the policy. She claims that Vincent’s class rank dropped from second at the end of his sophomore year, to his current rank of third, because a student in a four credit BOCES class ranked second under respondent’s policy. Petitioners request that I order respondent to stop over weighting student grades from BOCES classes for the purpose of calculating student GPA’s and class rank. They also seek an order directing respondent to develop and publicize a written policy regarding the ranking of students. Finally, petitioners request that respondent institute a new weighted grading system which affords greater weight to advanced and college level classes.

Respondent contends that its current system for ranking students is reasonable. Respondent claims that its policy affording additional weight for BOCES classes, while not written, has been a district practice since the 1988-89 school year. Respondent maintains that this is a reasonable practice as a BOCES student spends approximately 2 " hours per day in one class, as opposed to the 40 minutes students typically spend in a regular high school class. Respondent also asserts that its policy can work against a BOCES student who obtains a poor grade in the class, as it will be factored by four into the student’s GPA. Respondent submits that it has amended its class rank policy beginning with the 2000-01 school year, to incorporate the grades received by students for college level courses in the calculation of student GPA’s and class rank.

Respondent also asserts a number of procedural defenses. Specifically, respondent maintains that the appeal is untimely, that the remedy sought by petitioners with respect to the new weighted grading system is too vague, and that petitioners have failed to specify in detail the harm to them and/or their children. Respondent also contends that petitioners have failed to join a necessary party, the BOCES student who is currently ranked second in the class of 2001.

I will first address respondent’s procedural defenses. Respondents argue that this appeal is untimely. An appeal to the Commissioner must be instituted within 30 days from the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of, unless excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16). The record indicates that respondent made a final decision concerning petitioners’ request on May 18, 2000 and that this petition was served on June 16, 2000, within the 30 day time limit. Thus, the petition is timely.

Respondent also alleges that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join the BOCES student ranked second in the class as a necessary party. A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Diane P., 37 Ed Dept Rep 637, Decision No. 13,945; Appeal of Edward G., 36 id. 9, Decision No. 13,636; Appeal of Concerned Taxpayers Awareness Group, 35 id. 448, Decision No. 13,597). The final class ranking for the class of 2001 will not be computed until January 2001, therefore it is premature to determine whether or not the BOCES student will be adversely affected. Thus, I will not dismiss this appeal for failure to join a necessary party.

The appeal, however, must be dismissed on the merits. The determination of class rank is a decision for the local board of education that should not be altered unless it is arbitrary and irrational (Appeal of Perino, 36 Ed Dept Rep 305, Decision No. 13,732; Appeals of Mulder, 35 id. 340, Decision No. 13,563; Appeal of Maloney, 33 id. 154, Decision No. 13,007). As long as the local policy in question is not wholly without rational basis, the Commissioner will not impose a different policy (Appeal of Tenbus and Kraack, 35 Ed Dept Rep 320, Decision No. 13,556).

In this case, there is no basis to determine that the district’s class ranking policy is irrational or unreasonable. Respondent counts a BOCES grade four times for the purpose of calculating a student’s GPA and class rank. The explanation given by respondent for doing so -- that a BOCES class meets four times longer than a normal class -- is reasonable.

The fact that respondent’s class ranking practice has not been reduced to writing does not preclude respondent from implementing it, as the record reflects that this has been a consistent practice of the district since the 1988-89 school year. Additionally, there is nothing in the record which indicates that this practice has been applied unfairly or inconsistently by respondent. However, I note that it would be helpful to students, parents and school administrators if this practice was codified and better disseminated in the future.

I have reviewed the parties’ remaining contentions and find them without merit.