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Decision No. 17,337

Appeal of P.C. and K.C., on behalf of their daughter R.C., from action of the Board of Education of the Pittsford Central School District regarding attendance zones.

Decision No. 17,337

(February 28, 2018)

Parker Law Office, PLLC, attorneys for petitioner, Lori J. Parker, Esq., of counsel

Harris Beach, PLLC, attorneys for respondent, Laura M. Purcell, Esq., of counsel

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the determination of the Board of Education of the Pittsford Central School District (“respondent”) that their daughter, R.C., is not entitled to attend a school outside the attendance zone in which she resides.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Respondent’s district includes five elementary schools including Mendon Center Elementary School (“Mendon”); two middle schools, Barker Road Middle School (“Barker”) and Calkins Road Middle School (“Calkins”); and two high schools.  The record reflects that Mendon is a “feeder” school for both Calkins and Barker; thus, students within the attendance zone for Mendon are either zoned for Calkins or Barker.  Petitioners reside at an address zoned for Barker.  Respondent’s policy 7130 states that students must attend school in their attendance zone, with the exception that students with disabilities who are placed by respondent’s committee on special education (“CSE”) may be placed outside of their attendance zone.  In addition, respondent’s superintendent avers that the district “typically approves” requests to remain in a particular school building where students move to a different attendance zone during their terminal year in a school building.  Respondent’s director of student services also avers that the district approves such requests in “extreme situations” on a “case by case basis” and “generally, but not exclusively ... where it becomes necessary for the separation of certain students.”

According to petitioners, R.C. attended Mendon during the 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.  During this time period, petitioners allege that the uncle of two other Mendon students (“Mr. A.”) acted inappropriately toward R.C.  R.C. attended fifth grade at Mendon during the 2015-2016 school year.  Petitioners assert that they met with the superintendent in January 2015 “to express their continuing concern about the uncle” and that, at this meeting, they informed the superintendent of their concerns that R.C. would be assigned to attend Barker during the 2016-2017 school year, while “all of her support group of friends would attend Calkins Road.” 

On February 5, 2016, petitioners submitted a written request for R.C. to attend middle school at Calkins, outside of her attendance zone.[1]  Petitioners’ request was considered by respondent’s Secondary Leadership Team (“SLT”) at a meeting on February 8, 2016.  The director avers that, while the SLT did not come to a final recommendation regarding petitioners’ request at that meeting, the SLT’s “provisional recommendation” was that it did not support approval of petitioners’ request for R.C. to attend Calkins because the niece and nephew of Mr. A. would be attending Calkins for the 2016-2017 school year, and approval of petitioners’ request would potentially lead to contact between R.C. and Mr. A.

On an unspecified date, the director contacted petitioner K.C. to confirm that petitioners sought to transfer R.C. to Calkins since she would be in the same school as the niece and nephew of Mr. A.  The director avers that petitioner K.C. stated that she and the parents of Mr. A.’s niece and nephew “had come to an understanding” and that she believed Mr. A. “would be denied access to Calkins,” to which the director responded that she “could not say for sure,” because “no decision to permanently restrict Mr. A.’s access had been made.”

The director consulted with respondent’s superintendent and, subsequently, by letter dated February 17, 2016, informed petitioners that the SLT had denied their request for R.C. to attend Calkins.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioners’ request for interim relief was denied on March 28, 2016.

Petitioners maintain that respondent’s denial of their request for an exception to the attendance zone policy was arbitrary and capricious because R.C.’s support group of friends will attend Calkins and R.C. will feel less safe and suffer educationally, socially and emotionally at Barker; petitioners’ home is closer to Calkins than to Barker; respondent granted an exception to its attendance zone policy for another family for “reasons related to ... involvement in sports” and to allow the student’s younger sibling to attend Calkins “simply because the older child had been permitted to do so”; moving one student to Calkins will not negatively impact the district’s allocation of resources; and the denial of petitioners’ request violates respondent’s expressed policy of supporting students.

Respondent maintains that petitioners have failed to meet their burden of proving that R.C. is entitled to attend school outside her attendance zone.  Respondent contends that decisions concerning student placement within school districts are within its discretion pursuant to Education Law §1709.  Respondent contends that petitioners’ request was reviewed in accordance with the district’s normal process, and that petitioners have failed to establish that its determination was contrary to sound educational policy, arbitrary or capricious.

A board of education has the authority and responsibility to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Education Law §§1709[3] and [33], 1804[1], 1805).  In such cases, a board’s discretion is broad and a board’s decision will only be overturned when found to be arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older, et al. v. Bd. Of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1, Town of Mamaroneck, 27 NY2D 333; Appeal of Fettinger, et al., 47 Ed Dept Rep 4, Decision No. 15,604; Appeal of Bailey, et al., 45 id. 270, Decision No. 15,318, judgment granted dismissing stay request and petition, Sup. Ct., Albany Co., December 13, 2006).

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief (8 NYCRR §275.10; Appeal of Aversa, 48 Ed Dept Rep 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884; Appeal of P.M., 48 id. 348, Decision No. 15,882). 

Upon review of the record, I cannot conclude that respondent’s denial of petitioners’ request was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy.  The record indicates that petitioners sought to have R.C. attend the same school as her support group of friends for the 2016-2017 school year.  However, as respondent points out, this is the same school the niece and nephew of Mr. A. would attend for the 2016-2017 school year.  By petitioners’ own admission, Mr. A. has caused R.C. emotional harm.  The record indicates that, in making its determination, respondent considered the concerns expressed by petitioners regarding Mr. A. as well as the fact that their desire for R.C. to remain with her friends was “similar to [that] expressed by other families regarding separation from friends and did not rise to the level of granting an exception to the attendance zone policy.”  On this record, I cannot conclude that respondent’s determination, which took petitioners’ concerns regarding Mr. A. and R.C.’s safety and welfare into consideration, was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy and I will therefore not disturb it.

Moreover, on this record, petitioners have failed to establish that respondent applied its policy in an arbitrary manner in this case.  Although petitioners allege that respondent does not uniformly apply its policy, they have failed to demonstrate that any of the written or unwritten exceptions to respondent’s attendance zone policy are applicable to R.C.’s circumstances or that other children who were allegedly allowed to attend a school located outside of their attendance zone were in the same circumstances as R.C. (see Appeal of Wright, 47 Ed Dept Rep 202, Decision No. 15,668).  The director avers that most transfer requests made during the 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years were consistently either denied or granted in accordance with respondent’s policy.  Thus, while I am sympathetic to petitioners’ broader concerns, on this record, petitioners have not established that respondent arbitrarily applied policy 7130 when it denied their request and there is no legal basis to grant the relief petitioners seek (Appeal of Wright, 47 Ed Dept Rep 202, Decision No. 15,668).

Although the appeal must be dismissed, I note that the record reveals concerns with regard to respondent’s consistent application of policy 7130.  First, the superintendent and director refer in this appeal to two exceptions to the policy which do not appear in the language of policy 7130.  The policy only contemplates placement outside an attendance zone by the CSE and does not reference a terminal year or “extreme situations” exception.  Respondent does not explain how parents seeking to utilize such exceptions would learn of their existence.  Second, respondent has admitted that since the 2013-2014 school year, it granted two exceptions to the attendance zone policy which “did not appear to be consistent with ... [d]istrict policy and practice.”  In light of the issues raised in this appeal and the potential for confusion regarding respondent’s policy and its application, I remind respondent to either adhere to the plain language of policy 7130, or amend it to conform to its existing practice.  In any event, respondent must apply its policy in an even-handed manner and treat similarly-situated students equally.

Nevertheless, as noted above, petitioners have nevertheless failed to show that respondent’s denial of their request was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy, or that respondent granted an exception to another family under similar circumstances. Therefore, the appeal must be dismissed.

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

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE

 

[1] Neither party submitted a copy of petitioners’ request letter as part of the record in this appeal.