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Decision No. 14,670

Appeal of LAURA BONACASA, on behalf of her daughter, NATALIE, from action of the Board of Education of the West Hempstead Union Free School District regarding athletic eligibility.

Decision No. 14,670

(December 20, 2001)

Guercio & Guercio, attorneys for respondent, David M. Brodsky, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals a determination by the Board of Education of the West Hempstead Union Free School District ("respondent") that her daughter, Natalie, was ineligible for the fall 2001 soccer season due to excessive absences. The appeal must be dismissed.

Natalie was a freshman at West Hempstead High School during the 2000-2001 school year. She experienced medical problems in the early spring of 2001, which resulted in frequent absences from school. On May 3, 2001, Natalie was not feeling well. After attending three classes, Natalie left school without reporting to the school nurse or obtaining permission from school authorities to leave school, and instead was transported home by a friend. When she arrived home, she called petitioner and told her that she had left school because she was sick. Petitioner sent a note to the attendance office the next day, explaining why Natalie had left school so abruptly. The principal subsequently informed Natalie that the note was insufficient to excuse her absences from classes on May 3rd, and that those absences would be considered class cuts.

The high school's rules regarding eligibility for extracurricular activities were set forth in the "West Hempstead High School 2000-2001 Student Rules and Regulations" handbook. A student handbook is distributed to all high school students each year. In addition, in September of each year, the principal verbally explains the rules and procedures outlined in the student handbook at an assembly. The principal conducted such an assembly in September 2000, at which he explained the various attendance policies outlined in the handbook. He specifically informed students that, if any student cut four or more classes during any quarter, then the student would be deemed ineligible for extracurricular activities during the following school quarter.

Regarding missing classes due to illness, the handbook provides:

STUDENT ILLNESS/LEAVING EARLY

Students who feel ill enough to go home must receive the nurse's permission before leaving the building. Any students who miss a class without having the nurse contact their parents will be considered as having an unexcused absence. No student may leave school grounds for any reason without the school's permission. To do so is to cut. This cut cannot and will not be cleared after the fact.

When Natalie left school on May 3, 2001 after three periods, she missed periods four through nine, or a total of five class periods (excluding lunch) that were registered as five "cuts." Under the school's policy, she was therefore ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities during the next marking period, which was the fall of 2001. Soccer is expressly recognized as an extracurricular activity in the student handbook.

After the principal advised petitioner that he would not excuse any of the five cuts, petitioner appealed to respondent, contending that the policy was overly harsh and that students were not provided with sufficient notice of the eligibility rules for extracurricular activities. By letter dated June 22, 2001, respondent's president advised petitioner that respondent had considered petitioner's request and had decided not to make any change to the high school"s current policy. This appeal ensued. A request for interim relief was denied on August 31, 2001.

Petitioner asserts that neither she nor her daughter were aware of this policy. Petitioner contends that the policy is unfair and imposes an extremely severe consequence for one mistake. She requests that Natalie be allowed to participate in fall extracurricular activities and that I expunge this matter from Natalie"s record.

Respondent asserts that it has the authority and responsibility to establish standards for participation in extracurricular activities, and that the policy in question is a reasonable one that is uniformly applied to all students. Respondent further objects to the petition as untimely.

I agree that the petition is untimely. An appeal to the Commissioner of Education pursuant to Education Law "310 must be initiated within 30 days of the action or decision complained of unless excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16). Respondent's decision on petitioner's appeal was forwarded to petitioner by letter dated June 22, 2001. The record does not indicate the actual date petitioner received the letter, however, this appeal was not commenced until August 21, 2001. Petitioner does not deny that the petition is untimely, and offers no excuse for her delay. In view of these facts, I find this appeal untimely.

Even if not dismissed as untimely, I would dismiss the appeal on the merits. A board of education has very broad authority to establish reasonable standards of conduct for participation in extracurricular activities, and unless it is shown that the board has abused its discretion, its policy will be upheld (Appeal of Tucker, 39 Ed Dept Rep 824, Decision No. 14,393; Appeal of Shramek, 39 id. 577, Decision No. 14,317; Appeal of Catherine B., 37 id. 34, Decision No. 13,797). I do not find respondent"s policy to be an abuse of discretion. Furthermore, respondent uses multiple means of communicating this policy to parents and students, including a written student handbook and an assembly at the beginning of each year during which the principal verbally outlines the eligibility rules for student participation in extracurricular activities.

Finally, I note that it is a very serious matter for a student to simply leave school without telling anyone or obtaining permission to leave, especially if the student is ill and has not reported to the school nurse for an assessment of her condition. In sum, the record does not establish that respondent has acted arbitrarily or capriciously, or has abused its discretion in this matter.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

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