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Decision No. 15,764

Appeal of ALBERT GILEWICZ, on behalf of his daughter ALEXANDRA, from action of the Board of Education of the Amherst Central School District, the parents of A.C. and the parents of H.Q. regarding class rank.

Decision No. 15,764

(June 17, 2008)

Harris Beach, LLP, attorneys for respondent board of education, Laura Purcell, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the policy of the Board of Education of the Amherst Central School District (“respondent board” or “board”) to include accelerated students in its calculation of class rank.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner’s daughter, Alexandra, is a senior at the district’s high school.  According to petitioner, on October 23, 2007 respondent board “made a determination ... to include accelerated students”[1] in the rankings for the class of 2008.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on December 18, 2007.

The record indicates that there are two accelerated students in the class of 2008, one of whom is ranked first in the class.  Alexandra, who is not an accelerated student, is ranked second.  The parents of the two accelerated students are included as respondents in this appeal.

The district’s curriculum handbook (“handbook”) states that class rank “is based on final grades of credit-bearing courses completed at [the high school] for grades 9-11.  Grades from other schools, including summer school, are not included in the ranking.”  An affidavit from the superintendent explains that class rank for the graduating class is calculated “in September of the students’ final school year based upon grades earned through the prior June .... Twenty-two credits are required for graduation; no specific number of credits or coursework is required [for a student] to be ranked within the graduating class.”

With respect to the selection of valedictorian and
salutatorian, the board’s Regulation 7220R (“regulation”) states, in pertinent part:

An eligible student must attend [the district’s] schools for a minimum of three full academic years, prior to graduation, from grades 9-12 ....

Only the average of grades earned in [the district’s] schools through January of the senior year will be used to select the final candidate ....

Eligibility will not be restricted in any way by virtue of the type of courses undertaken by the students ....

Students eligible for graduation at the end of their junior year can qualify under the above criteria .... It is important to note that the student who opts for graduation at the end of the junior year must fulfill all other requirements of Board of Education policy dealing with early graduation including the determination of the student’s status in the year preceding the junior year.[2]

Petitioner claims, interalia, that the inclusion of accelerated students in class ranking is unfair, “discriminates” against his daughter and the other 250 students in the class of 2008 and violates respondent board’s regulation and handbook.  Specifically, petitioner argues that the two accelerated students included in the 2008 class rank have failed to: complete grades 9-11; attend the district for a minimum of three years; complete the “class work and grades through January of the senior year” and “achieve the status of a ‘senior’” in the year preceding the junior year.  Petitioner also contends that respondent board failed to provide him with any “written policy, guideline, regulation, procedure or other such documentation to explain or support the basis upon which” the accelerated students were evaluated for inclusion in class rank.

Respondent board contends that the appeal must be dismissed for petitioner’s failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and to meet his burden of proof.  Respondent board maintains that its class ranking process has been in place for at least 12 years, has “always” included accelerated students and has been appropriately and consistently applied.

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 Jobson, 47 Ed Dept Rep __, Decision No. 15,719; Appeal of Lynch, 42 id. 398, Decision No. 14,892; Appeal of Armella and MacIntyre, 40 id. 451, Decision No. 14,525).  As long as the local policy in question is not wholly without rational basis, the Commissioner will not impose a different policy (Appeal of Lynch, 42 Ed Dept Rep 398, Decision No. 14,892; Appeal of Armella and MacIntyre, 40 id. 451, Decision No. 14,525; Appeal of Tenbus and Kraack, 35 id. 320, Decision No. 13,556).

Respondent board’s inclusion of accelerated students for purposes of class ranking is consistent with prior Commissioner’s decisions and with its own past practice (seeAppeal of Edward G., 36 Ed Dept Rep 9, Decision No. 13,636; Appeal of Chesbrough, 32 id. 647, Decision No. 12,944; Matter of Roberts, 15 id. 269, Decision No. 9,164).  In Matter of Roberts, a school district refused to assign a class rank to a student who had completed high school in three years.  The school district argued that students who remained in high school for only three years should not be compared to those who stay for four years and take more courses, arguing that it is more difficult to maintain a high average based on a larger number of courses.  The Commissioner rejected this argument and stated:

Even if respondent had been able to demonstrate the existence in writing of a policy with respect to the ranking of accelerated students, I could not accept such policy.  It is inequitable for respondent, or any board of education, to treat three-year graduates on any different basis from four-year graduates .... [S]tudents who elect to pursue an accelerated program of studies should not be discriminated against in the assignment of a rank in class.

In the instant appeal, respondent board has made accelerated graduation available to its students and, in doing so, has made accelerated students members of their respective graduating classes.  It is therefore clear that accelerated students are eligible for inclusion in class rankings on the same basis as those students, like petitioner’s daughter, who graduate in four years.  Therefore, I cannot find that respondent board acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in applying its policies and regulations in the instant case.

I note that the superintendent has asked the interim high school principal and guidance department chairperson to review the handbook and regulations on the issue of class rank “to ensure that their language is consistent with the District’s long-established class ranking process” and to “ensure consistent understanding of the procedure.”   I encourage respondent board to continue its efforts to clarify its policies and communications in response to the concerns raised in this appeal.

I have considered petitioner’s remaining arguments and find them to be without merit.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE


[1] An accelerated student is one who graduates from high school in less than four years.

[2] Respondent board has submitted an affidavit from its superintendent stating:  “While the District has chosen to no longer use the honor designations of Valedictorian and Salutatorian for the first and second ranked students in the class, the District’s practice of including accelerated students in the class rank, and by virtue of that, allowing them to become the first or second ranked student in the class is consistent with this regulation.”