Decision No. 17,945
Appeal of CHRISTINE CHALK, on behalf of BOJIAN YU, from action of the Board of Education of the Middle Country Central School District regarding residency.
Appeal of CHRISTINE CHALK, on behalf of ZHANRONG GUO, from action of the Board of Education of the Middle Country Central School District regarding residency.
Decision No. 17,945
(December 2, 2020)
Guercio & Guercio, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Eric Levine, Esq., of counsel
ROSA., Interim Commissioner.--In two separate appeals, petitioner appeals determinations of the Middle Country Central School District (“respondent”) to deny Bojian Yu (“Bojian”) and Zhanrong Guo (“Zhanrong”) (collectively, “the students”) transportation to a nonpublic school during the 2019-2020 school year. Because the appeals present similar issues of fact and law, they are consolidated for decision. The appeals must be dismissed.
Petitioner states that she is the “guardian” of, or “custodian in a parental relationship to,” the students, who are citizens of China living in the United States pursuant to individual Class F-1 Visas (“F-1 Visa”). An F-1 Visa is issued to citizens of foreign countries who wish to enter the United States to attend certain schools — in this case St. Anthony High School, a private high school located in Rockville Centre, New York (the “nonpublic school”).
On August 26, 2016, petitioner sought to enroll Bojian as a district resident. In support of her request, petitioner submitted a copy of Bojian’s F-1 Visa. Respondent enrolled Bojian as a district resident and provided transportation to and from the nonpublic school during the 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 school years.
In August 2019, petitioner requested transportation on behalf of Bojian. She also sought to enroll Zhanrong as a district resident. As she had with Bojian, petitioner submitted a copy of Zhanrong’s F-1 Visa. Respondent enrolled Zhanrong and provided him and Bojian with transportation during the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. Shortly after respondent enrolled Zhanrong, respondent commissioned a transportation efficiency study and realized that it might have been improperly providing transportation to certain nonresidents.
By letters dated October 1, 2019, respondent’s superintendent informed petitioner that the students may not be eligible for transportation because they were not residents of the district. The superintendent further indicated that she had scheduled a meeting on October 7, 2019 to permit petitioner to present any written and verbal information concerning the students’ residency status. Petitioner did not respond to the letters or attend the meeting on October 7.
By letters dated October 18, 2019, respondent informed petitioner of its determination that the students were not district residents and, thus, not entitled to transportation to the nonpublic school. The letters further informed petitioner that the students’ transportation to the nonpublic school would terminate as of November 27, 2019. These appeals ensued. Petitioner’s requests for interim relief were denied on November 19, 2019.
Petitioner asserts that the students are district residents entitled to transportation to the nonpublic school. Petitioner states that Bojian intends to reside with her in respondent’s district “until he finishes high school this year and through college” and that Zhanrong will reside with her “until he finishes high school and possibly through college.” Petitioner indicates that Zhanrong lives with her for 11 months of the year and Bojian for 10 months of the year. Petitioner also complains that respondent’s denial of transportation presents a hardship and will not entail any additional cost for the district. Petitioner seeks a determination that the students are residents of respondent’s district entitled to receive transportation.
Respondent argues that its determination was reasonable and that it acted properly at all times.
Pursuant to Education Law §3635(1)(a), a school district must provide transportation to “all children residing within the district to and from the school they legally attend,” so long as the distance between such child’s residence and school is within the statutorily prescribed limits. A district is thus not required by law to provide transportation to non-resident students (Appeal of G.S., 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,083; Appeal of Markarian, 47 id. 114, Decision No. 15,644; Appeal of Jeudy, 46 id. 512, Decision No. 15,579). As elsewhere in the Education Law, a child’s “residence” for the purpose of transportation is established by the child’s physical presence and intent to remain within the district (Appeal of J.E.C. Jr., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,764; see generally Longwood Cent. School Dist. v. Springs Union Free School Dist., 1 NY3d 385 ). A child’s residence is presumed to be that of his or her parents or legal guardians (Catlin v. Sobol, 155 AD2d 24, revd on other grounds, 77 NY2d 552 ; Appeal of Powell, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,320).
The presumption that a child resides with his or her parents or legal guardians can be rebutted upon a determination that there has been a total, and presumably permanent, transfer of custody and control to someone residing in the district (Appeal of Powell, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,320; Appeal of Polynice, 48 id. 490, Decision No. 15,927). While it is not necessary to establish parental custody and control through a formal guardianship proceeding, it is necessary to demonstrate that a particular location is a child’s permanent residence and that the individual exercising control has full authority and responsibility with respect to the child’s support and custody (Appeal of Powell, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,320; Appeal of Polynice, 48 id. 490, Decision No. 15,927).
Generally, if parents or legal guardians continue to provide financial support for room, board, clothing and other necessities, custody and control has not been relinquished (see Catlin v. Sobol, 155 AD2d 24, revd on other grounds, 77 NY2d 552 ; Appeal of M.V., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,318). Similarly, where parents or legal guardians retain control over important issues such as medical and educational decisions, total control is not relinquished (Appeal of M.V., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,318; Appeal of Polynice, 48 id. 490, Decision No. 15,927). In addition, where the sole reason the child is residing with someone other than a parent or legal guardian is to take advantage of the schools of the district, the child has not established residence (Appeal of Begum, 55 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,799; Appeal of Cheng, 47 id. 366, Decision No. 15,726).
A residency determination will not be set aside unless it is arbitrary and capricious (Appeal of Powell, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,320; Appeal of White, 48 id. 295, Decision No. 15,863). In an appeal to the Commissioner, the 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 (Appeal of Powell, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,320; Appeal of White, 48 id. 295, Decision No. 15,863).
On the record before me, petitioner has not carried her burden of establishing that there has been a total and permanent transfer of custody and control over the students from their legal guardians to petitioner. Petitioner does not assert that the students’ parents have transferred custody and control of the students to her and submits no evidence to support such a finding. While respondent acknowledges that both students possess F-1 Visas, this does not, ipso facto, render them district residents. Pursuant to 8 USC §1101(a)(15)(F)(i), the students’ receipt of an F-1 Visa means that each student is “[a]n alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning” who is residing in the United States “temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing ... a course of study ....” Although the Commissioner has held that a school district may not impose an irrebuttable presumption of residency based on a student’s visa status, such status is nevertheless relevant to a student’s intent to remain in the United States (see e.g. Appeal of Constantino Jr., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,764, Appeal of Esposito, 57 id., Decision No. 17,415; Appeal of Plata, 40 id. 552, Decision No. 14,555). As indicated above, an F-1 Visa is intended for one who “seeks to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing ... a course of study.” Petitioner has presented no evidence to the contrary. Thus, the student’s visa status does not support a finding that the student intends to remain within respondent’s district (Appeal of Constantino Jr., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,764).
While respondent initially provided the students with transportation to which they were not legally entitled, prior decisions of a district do not bind or estop the district from making a different determination (see e.g. Appeal of Perez, 42 Ed Dept Rep 71, Decision No. 14,779). It is well-settled that equitable estoppel does not apply against a governmental subdivision except in limited circumstances not applicable here (Parkview Assoc. v. City of New York, 71 NY2d 274; Hamptons Hosp. and Medical Center v. Moore, et al., 52 NY2d 88; Appeal of Wertman, 58 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,614, judgment granted dismissing petition, Wertman v. NYS Education Department, Sup. Ct., Albany Co., Special Term [Cholakis, J.], December 30, 2019).
Therefore, the presumption that the students reside with their parents has not been rebutted. As such, I cannot find respondent’s determination that the students are not district residents and, therefore, not entitled to transportation to the nonpublic school to be arbitrary or capricious (see Appeal of Constantino Jr., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,764, Appeal of Botsakos, 56 id., Decision No. 17,093). Although petitioner alleges that transportation of the students would not impose additional costs upon respondent, respondent is only obligated to transport a student between his or her residence in the school district and the school which he or she legally attends (Education Law §3635[a]).
In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.
THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.
END OF FILE
 The only evidence petitioner submits is a bus schedule for the 2018-2019 school year reflecting the location where Bojian was picked up. As indicated above, respondent admits that it provided transportation to Bojian during the 2018-2019 school year.