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Decision No. 16,633

Appeal of P.C., on behalf of her daughter H.C., from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Saratoga Springs regarding student discipline. 

Appeal of P.C., on behalf of her daughter C.C., from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Saratoga Springs regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 16,633

(July 24, 2014)

Anderson Byrne LLC, attorneys for petitioner, Elizabeth Byrne-Chartrand, Esq., of counsel

Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Paul M. Aloy, Esq., of counsel

KING, JR., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the decision of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Saratoga Springs (“respondent”) to suspend her daughters, H.C. and C.C., for four days.  Because the appeals present similar issues of fact and law, they are consolidated for decision.  The appeals must be dismissed.

On Friday, March 4, 2011, petitioner’s daughters attended a dance held at respondent’s high school.  Based on information received by a fellow student, respondent’s assistant principal asked H.C. and C.C. if they had been drinking alcoholic beverages.  Although H.C. and C.C. denied drinking while at the dance, they admitted to having consumed an alcoholic beverage at their home prior to attending the dance.

By separate letters dated March 7, 2011, but postmarked March 8, 2011, respondent’s high school principal, Brett Miller (“Principal Miller”), notified petitioner that H.C. and C.C. were being suspended for four days, commencing on March 8, 2011, for an “incident ... categorized as use of alcohol.”  The letters further advised petitioner of her right to request an immediate informal conference and to have any witness present to “gain information about the incident.”  According to petitioner, she received the letters on the afternoon of March 9, 2011.

By letter dated March 14, 2011, petitioner, through her attorney, requested an informal conference with Principal Miller to discuss the incident and to question witnesses, including the assistant principal and any other teacher or chaperone at the dance who witnessed H.C. and C.C.’s behavior.  The attorney also requested that respondent provide any “surveillance tapes, videos and photos of the event....”  Additionally, the attorney claimed that written notice and due process were required before suspending H.C. and C.C. from school, that petitioner was not waiving any claims regarding that issue, and that H.C. and C.C. were not intoxicated at the dance to warrant any disciplinary action.

By letter dated March 24, 2011, respondent’s superintendent of schools, Janice M. White (“Superintendent White”), responded to petitioner’s request for an informal conference.  Rather than consider the letter a request for an informal conference, Superintendent White decided to treat it “as an appeal” of H.C. and C.C.’s suspensions.  Superintendent White found that the district provided due process to petitioner because the principal contacted petitioner by telephone, apparently on March 5, 2011, to discuss the incident and informed her that he was available to meet on Monday, March 7, 2011, to further discuss the suspensions.

The superintendent noted that, on March 5, 2011, petitioner’s husband emailed the principal requesting a meeting and such meeting took place on March 7, 2011, with the assistant principal, who was present at the dance, and the principal.

In her letter, Superintendent White stated that Principal Miller commenced each student’s suspension on March 8, 2011, because he believed that H.C. and C.C.’s presence in school would “cause an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic process.”  Superintendent White confirmed the finding that H.C. and C.C. violated the district’s code of conduct warranting suspension.  Superintendent White upheld the four-day suspension of each of petitioner’s daughters. 

By letter dated April 7, 2011, petitioner appealed Superintendent White’s determination to respondent.  By separate letters dated May 4, 2011, respondent upheld Superintendent White’s decision suspending H.C. and C.C. for four days.  This appeal ensued.

Petitioner challenges the suspension of her daughters on several procedural grounds, including that respondent failed to provide an opportunity for an informal conference or to question complaining witnesses prior to their suspension and that their presence in school did not pose a continuing danger or an ongoing threat to the academic process.  Petitioner also contends that H.C. and C.C. were not under the influence of alcohol at the dance in violation of the district’s code of conduct.  Petitioner asserts that respondent’s code of conduct is impermissibly vague. Petitioner seeks expungement of the four-day suspension from each daughter’s record.

Respondent contends that petitioner has failed to state a claim or a clear legal right to the relief requested.  Respondent maintains that it afforded appropriate due process in imposing each suspension.  Respondent asserts that the record supports its determination that H.C. and C.C. violated the code of conduct and the suspension imposed upon each of them was reasonable.

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).  Petitioner seeks expungement of any reference to the suspension from H.C. and C.C.’s record.  Subsequent to submission of each appeal, respondent filed an affidavit with supporting documentation indicating that, based on procedural grounds, each student’s suspension was “permanently expunged from [their] records.”  Respondent submits copies of H.C. and C.C.’s records as evidence of that action.  In light of respondent’s expungement of H.C. and C.C.’s records, petitioner’s demand therefor is academic and the appeals are moot, warranting dismissal.

To the extent that petitioner seeks a declaration regarding respondent’s code of conduct, such relief would be advisory in nature.  It is well established that the Commissioner does not issue advisory opinions or declaratory rulings in an appeal pursuant to Education Law §310 (Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 Ed Dept Rep 411, Decision No. 15,899; Appeal of Waechter, 48 id. 261, Decision No. 15,853).

THE APPEALS ARE DISMISSED.

END OF FILE