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Decision No. 15,972

Appeal of C.C., on behalf of her children A.C. and V.C., from action of the Board of Education of the Arlington Central School District, Frank V. Pepe, Jr., Superintendent of Schools, and Muriel Gaw, Coordinator of Social Studies, regarding summer assignments and academic placement.

Decision No. 15,972

(August 20, 2009)

Kuntz, Spagnuolo & Murphy, P.C., attorneys for respondents, Mario L. Spagnuolo, Esq., of counsel

HUXLEY, Interim Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the actions of the Board of Education of the Arlington Central School District (“board”), its Superintendent (“superintendent”) and Coordinator of Social Studies (“coordinator,” collectively referred to as “respondents”) concerning mandatory summer assignments for Advanced Placement United States History (“AP U.S. History”) and ninth grade Global History Honors (“Global History Honors”).  She further challenges respondents’ removal of her children from the aforementioned courses due to their failure to timely submit their respective summer assignments.  The appeal must be sustained in part.

Petitioner’s daughter, A.C., attended tenth grade at the district’s high school during the 2007-2008 school year.  In May 2008, A.C. was notified that as an incoming eleventh grade student enrolled in AP U.S.  History, she would be required to complete two summer assignments. 

The first summer assignment required A.C. to read the first four chapters of the course textbook and answer the “thought questions” (complex essay questions) and identifications that accompanied each chapter.  The answers were required to be typed.  A.C. was advised that her answers should be complete and show an understanding of the material and should explain the historical context of each term, person or event, giving specific details and explaining their impact.  Each chapter would account for 25 points -- 100 points for the four chapters.  A.C. was further advised that she would be tested on this material during the second week of school.  Finally, she was notified that this summer assignment was due August 8, 2008, that no late assignments would be accepted and that students who failed to timely complete the summer assignment would be rescheduled into a Regents level class.

The second summer assignment required A.C. to read the book Founding Brothers and take notes on each of the book’s six chapters and its preface.  Her notes were to be typed, three to four pages per chapter, and include the event discussed in each chapter, the individuals involved and their historical significance.  The notes were due the first day of school; they would be graded and form the basis of an essay to be written in class during the first unit of study.  Questions regarding both summer assignments were to be forwarded to the coordinator via email.

Petitioner’s son, V.C., attended eighth grade in the district’s middle school during the 2007-2008 school year.  Prior to the end of the school year, V.C. was notified that as an incoming ninth grade student enrolled in Global History Honors, he would be required to read two books over the summer, selected from a reading list of three books.  V.C. was advised that the books were available at local libraries, bookstores and online.  For each of the two books he read, he would have to answer five accompanying essay questions, addressing each book’s most important themes.  The answers to each essay question were to be well-reasoned, one-to-two typed pages in length and written in paragraph form.  V.C. was notified this summer assignment was due August 13, 2008, that no late assignments would be accepted and that students who failed to timely complete the summer assignment would be rescheduled into a Regents level class.  Questions were to be forwarded to the coordinator via email address.

According to petitioner, A.C. and V.C. completed their summer assignments prior to attending out-of-town enrichment programs for part of the summer, but they did not immediately submit their assignments so that they would have additional time to review them.

By email dated August 15, 2008 (after the deadlines for the summer assignments had passed), petitioner advised the coordinator that the assignments had not been timely submitted due to family illness and various computer problems.  Petitioner told the coordinator that she would submit the assignments as soon as possible and asked that her children not be penalized for circumstances beyond their control.

By email dated August 16, 2008, the coordinator advised petitioner that no extensions would be granted and that late assignments would not be accepted.  Petitioner and the coordinator exchanged several additional emails but the coordinator refused to change her initial position.

By letter dated August 28, 2008, petitioner appealed to the superintendent and requested that he permit A.C. and V.C. to remain enrolled in the AP and Honors Courses.  The superintendent denied petitioner’s request and the children were enrolled in Regents level history courses for the 2008-2009 school year.  This appeal ensued.  On September 17, 2008, an interim order was granted directing the board to admit A.C. to AP U.S. History and V.C. to Global History Honors pending a final decision in this appeal.

Petitioner requests that I find the summer assignments unreasonable and beyond respondents’ authority.  Petitioner asserts that respondents have failed to provide or otherwise make available a sufficient number of books for the assignments.  Petitioner further maintains that it is unreasonable for respondents to require children to perform the level of work necessitated by the summer assignments, make the assignments due prior to the start of school, and provide no teaching assistance over the summer other than an email address.  Petitioner also requests that I direct respondents to modify the summer assignments.

Additionally, petitioner challenges respondents’ policy of removing, otherwise academically qualified, children from AP U.S. History and Global History Honors if they fail to timely submit their summer assignments.  Petitioner requests her children’s enrollment in these courses.  Petitioner further requests that I direct respondents not to use the untimely submission of the summer assignments to negatively impact her children’s grades in those courses.

Respondents maintain that the summer assignments and their policy of reassigning students, who fail to timely complete them, to Regents level courses are within respondents’ authority, and are not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.  Respondents also maintain that the availability of a teacher by email constitutes adequate teacher guidance or instruction for summer assignments.

Prior decisions of the Commissioner have reviewed mandatory summer assignments and found them to be permissible when properly structured and administered (seee.g.Appeal of Lahm, 41 Ed Dept Rep 193, Decision No. 14,662).  However, a mandatory summer assignment is unreasonable and impermissible when it does not ensure that the necessary books are reasonably available to all students and when it requires students to perform mandatory written assignments for a grade without the benefit of a teacher’s direction or supervision (Appeal of Curran, 44 Ed Dept Rep 470, Decision No. 15,235; Appeal of Ciotti, 44 id. 247, Decision No. 15,162; Appeal of Lease, 39 id. 215, Decision No. 14,219).  Fundamentally, class grades should reflect work done under a teacher’s direction and supervision (Appeal of Lahm, 41 Ed Dept Rep 193, Decision No. 14,662; Appeal of Lease, 39 id. 215, Decision No. 14,219).

The students in AP U.S. History were required to read the first four chapters of the course textbook.  The record indicates that students were provided with photocopies of these chapters.  The AP U.S. History students were also required to read Founding Brothers.  Students in Global History Honors were required to read two books selected from a reading list of three books.  Petitioner does not claim any difficulty in obtaining the required books, and on this record has not established that respondents failed to ensure that an adequate supply of books was reasonably available (seeAppeal of Lahm, 41 Ed Dept Rep 193, Decision No. 14,662).

I nevertheless find both the AP U.S. History and Global History Honors summer assignments to be unreasonable due to lack of sufficient teacher direction and supervision concerning the mandatory written assignments which were reflected in the students’ grades.  The first of the two AP U.S. History written assignments and the Global History Honors written assignment were due prior to the start of classes.  The second AP U.S. History written assignment was due the first day of class.  According to the record, the AP U.S. History assignments accounted for 14.29 to 16.66% of each student’s first quarter grade and the Global History Honors assignment accounted for 12.50 to 14.29% of each student’s first quarter grade, depending upon the number of assignments in each course in that quarter.  Both courses required students to read books with complex themes and complete extensive written assignments.

I find the instructional support for these assignments to be lacking in several respects.  First, the coordinator was the only teacher available to assist students in both courses for the entire summer.  Second, the coordinator was only available to assist students in these two courses through email and no provision was made for students who did not have access to email.  Third, two of the three assignments at issue were due prior to the start of classes, the third assignment was due on the first day of classes and each of the assignments accounted for a portion of the students’ first quarter grade.  Given the extensive nature of these assignments and their relative weight towards students’ grades, the amount of teacher direction and supervision was inadequate.  Thus, on this record, I conclude that respondents’ AP U.S. History and Global History summer assignments were unreasonable.

Although I find respondents’ summer assignments to be unreasonable, I find no basis to invalidate student grades earned on assessments based upon the summer assignments.  At this point, the school year has ended and students have completed the assignments and received grades.  It would not serve any educational purpose to invalidate the grades that have already been earned, especially where petitioner has failed to show that her children’s final grades suffered for lack of instruction (seeAppeal of Curran, 44 Ed Dept Rep 470, Decision No. 15,235). 

Petitioner also challenges the board’s policy of reassigning students who fail to timely submit their summer assignments into Regents level courses.  Pursuant to Education Law §1709(3), a board of education has broad authority to prescribe the course of study by which pupils shall be graded and classified and to regulate the admission of pupils and their transfer from one class or department to another as their scholarship warrants.  The Commissioner will not substitute his or her judgment for that of a board of education with respect to student placement, absent evidence that the board has acted in an illegal, arbitrary or capricious manner (Appeal of Gergely, 47 Ed Dept Rep 423, Decision No. 15,742; Appeal of J.K. and M.B., 40 id. 368, Decision No. 14,500; Appeal of Reid, 32 id. 587, Decision No. 12,922).

Based on my review of the record, I find that respondents acted arbitrarily and capriciously in reassigning petitioner’s children.  Under respondents’ policy, students, like A.C. and V.C., who were previously determined by the district to be academically qualified for enrollment in AP U.S. History and Global History Honors, are reassigned to Regents level history courses simply for failing to timely submit their summer assignments.  Prior decisions of the Commissioner have reviewed criteria for selection to advanced and honors courses at the secondary level and found them to be permissible and rational when based on multiple measures of assessment, such as the use of teacher recommendations, standardized test scores, IQ scores, and course grades (Appeal of Dawn H., 39 Ed Dept Rep 635, Decision No. 14,336; Appeal of Julio I., 39 id. 509, Decision No. 14,295; Appeal of Reid, 32 id. 587, Decision No. 12,922).  Here, petitioner’s children were excluded from courses based on one factor -- their failure to timely submit their summer assignments.  I find this consequence to be improper under the circumstances (seeAppeal of Dawn H., 39 Ed Dept Rep 635, Decision No. 14,336; Appeal of Julio I., 39 id. 509, Decision No. 14,295; Appeal of Reid, 32 id. 587, Decision No. 12,922).

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED TO THE EXTENT INDICATED.

IT IS ORDERED that the board modify its policy regarding summer assignments consistent with this decision; and

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the board modify its academic placement policy consistent with this decision.

END OF FILE