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Decision No. 16,433

Appeal of KARLA AND JOHN GORDINIER, on behalf of their son SAMUEL, from action of the Board of Education of the Dalton-Nunda Central School District[1] regarding class rank.

Decision No. 16,433

(November 16, 2012)

Harris Beach PLLC, attorneys for respondent, Laura M. Purcell and Sara E. Visingard, Esqs., of counsel

KING, JR., Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the determination of the Board of Education of the Dalton-Nunda Central School District (“respondent”) regarding their son’s class rank and its weighting of advanced placement (“AP”) courses in calculating grade point average (“GPA”).  The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners’ son, Samuel, was a senior at respondent’s high school during the 2010-2011 school year.  Samuel took multiple AP courses in high school.  The second quarter marking period ended on or about January 28, 2011, closing the grades used to determine each student’s GPA.  Petitioners allege that on March 11, 2011, the high school principal told them that Samuel was ranked second in the 2011 graduating class and that he could “go ahead and write that Salutatorian speech.”  Petitioners further allege that the high school principal called again on April 4, 2011 and stated that he was mistaken and that Samuel was actually ranked third in the class.  Also in April, petitioners and the parents of the student ranked second declined an offer by the acting superintendent to have the students be co-salutatorians.

Respondents state that they used a new student record management system for the 2010-2011 school year.  When calculations were run in March 2011, Samuel was ranked second in the graduating class.  However, in April, respondent’s guidance office discovered that “the new system had recorded a Regents Examination score for a particular course incorrectly for certain students.”  When the scores were corrected and the GPAs recalculated, Samuel was ranked third rather than second.  Petitioners met with the principal and the acting superintendent on April 19 and May 6, 2011 to discuss GPA calculation, including respondent’s addition of five percent in weighting AP course grades.

In May 2011, Samuel asked his four AP teachers how the AP courses were weighted.  They informed him that they believed a 10 percent weighting was applied.  Thereafter, respondent acknowledged that, because of previous discussions about changing the weighting percentile, there was some “confusion among the teachers regarding whether or not the District’s five percent weighting policy had changed to a ten percent weighting policy.”  Due to this confusion and inquiries from other parents, respondent and the acting superintendent decided that an independent review of the senior class GPAs was necessary.

In mid-May the acting superintendent asked the district’s internal auditor to “conduct an independent review and calculation of the GPAs of the top-ranked students of the Nunda High School Class of 2011.”  Thereafter, an anonymous review was conducted of the top 25 students of the 2011 graduating class.  The review included transcripts, five years of report cards and the raw score data for each of the AP courses taken by these students.  As a result of the review, the ranking of a few students ranked 6 through 25 changed but the ranking of the top 5 students did not change.

Petitioner John Gordinier met with respondent’s president and the acting superintendent on June 7, 2011 wherein the results of the internal audit were discussed.  At this meeting petitioner John Gordinier was provided with a copy of the “Keshequa Central School District High School Profile,” a document sent to colleges with students’ transcripts.  The profile states that college-level courses “are weighted by adding five percent of the ten week grade to the class average.”  On June 8, 2011, petitioner John Gordinier addressed respondent in executive session requesting that the AP courses be weighted by adding ten percent rather than five percent.  Respondent did not agree to change its policy or to apply a ten percent weight to AP courses for the class of 2011.  This appeal ensued.  On June 17, 2011, petitioners’ request for interim relief was denied.

Petitioners contend that respondent’s class rankings are not credible.  They seek recalculation of the GPAs for the top ranked students in the class of 2011 and ask that a 10 percent weighting be used for all AP courses.  Accordingly, petitioners seek re-designation of the salutatorian for the class of 2011, if warranted by the GPA recalculation.  Finally, petitioners seek an apology from respondent acknowledging infliction of pain, suffering and loss of trust.

Respondent argues that the appeal is moot, and that petitioners have failed to join necessary parties.  Additionally, respondent maintains that petitioners have failed to meet their burden of proof and that respondent’s methodology for determining class valedictorian and salutatorian is reasonable.  Respondent also asks that I reject petitioners’ response to affidavits filed in opposition to petitioners’ request for a stay.

I will first address several procedural matters.  Respondent requests that I reject petitioners’ response to its affidavits which were filed in opposition to petitioners’ request for a stay.  Respondent correctly notes that the response is not a pleading included in §275.3 of the Commissioner’s regulations.  However, I note that the affidavits submitted in opposition to petitioners’ request for interim relief were incorporated by reference in paragraph 15 of respondent’s answer.  Consequently, I will permit petitioners’ submission as in the nature of a reply to respondent’s answer.  A liberal interpretation of the rules is appropriate when petitioners are proceeding without the representation of counsel and there is no prejudice to respondent (Appeal of Barnes, 50 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,093; Appeal of Coke, 46 id. 110, Decision No. 15,457; Appeal of Skugor, 44 id. 1, Decision No. 15,075).  

Respondent also alleges that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join the designated salutatorian as a necessary party.  A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).  Joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).  In this case, the interests of the named salutatorian would be adversely affected if I were to grant the relief requested.  Accordingly, that student is a necessary party to this appeal.  Such student, however, was not named in the caption nor served with the notice of petition or petition, warranting dismissal of the appeal.

Additionally, the appeal must be dismissed as moot.  The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 Ed Dept Rep 532, Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937; Appeal of Embro, 48 id. 204, Decision No. 15,836).  This is especially true when petitioner has sought interim relief as to all or most of his claims and that relief has been denied (Appeal of P.F., 49 Ed Dept Rep 313, Decision No. 16,039; Appeal of Martin, 41 id. 35, Decision No. 14,605).  In this case, petitioners’ request for interim relief was denied on June 17, 2011, and shortly thereafter, the class of 2011 graduated, with the designated salutatorian, rendering the appeal academic.

Even if this appeal were not dismissed on procedural grounds, it would 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 Gilewicz, 47 Ed Dept Rep 493, Decision No. 15,764; Appeal of Jobson, 47 id. 347, Decision No. 15,719; Appeal of Lynch, 42 id. 398, Decision No. 14,892).  As long as the local policy in question is not wholly without rational basis, the Commissioner will not impose a different policy (Appeal of Gilewicz, 47 Ed Dept Rep 493, Decision No. 15,764; Appeal of Lynch, 42 id. 398, Decision No. 14,892).

Here, petitioners do not assert or establish any basis to conclude that respondent’s policy of applying a 5 percent, rather than a 10 percent, weighting to AP courses is arbitrary, capricious or irrational.  While it appears that a discussion of possibly changing the weighting from 5 to 10 percent may have caused some confusion amongst respondent’s teachers, the independent review of the GPAs and class ranking of the top 25 students by the district’s internal auditor should allay any concerns regarding their accuracy.  Further, the auditor was given the raw score data for each of the AP courses taken by these students, thereby ensuring that the same policy was uniformly applied to all graduating students who took AP courses.

Although the miscommunication to petitioners’ son is unfortunate, I am unable to conclude that respondent’s determination of class rank in this case was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.

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

END OF FILE.

[1] The popular name of the Dalton-Nunda Central School District is the Keshequa Central School District.