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Decision No. 12,652

Appeal of ALEN and DEBORAH KANTOR, on behalf of their son JOSHUA KANTOR, from action of the Board of Education of the Edmeston Central School District and John Holdorf, superintendent, relating to failure to bring disciplinary action against a teacher.

Decision No. 12,652

(February 25, 1992)

Hogan and Sarzynski, Esqs., attorneys for respondents, Edward J. Sarzynski, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal respondent board of education's refusal to place a letter of reprimand in a teacher's personnel file following an altercation between the teacher and petitioners' son. The appeal must be dismissed.

On the final day of the 1990-91 school year, petitioners' son reported to his homeroom, expecting to receive his report card. When informed that report cards would be distributed in about a half-hour, petitioners' son left the room spouting vulgar language to the effect that he was not going to wait. When a teacher requested petitioners' son to return to class, the student made vulgar and threatening statements to the teacher, but eventually returned to class. Once back in the room, petitioners' son seemed to become more emotional and continued to shout obscenities. At that point, the teacher took the student by both arms and told him to stop his threatening behavior. The student continued to shout obscenities and the teacher placed his arms alongside the student who was then standing in a corner to block the student's exit. The teacher's arms apparently were not touching the student at that time.

The student then started to calm down, but continued to use vulgar language as he was escorted to the principal's office by the principal, where he stayed until his father arrived. The matter was discussed by the individuals involved and the student and his father eventually left.

At petitioners' request, the board directed that the matter be investigated. The investigation was conducted by one of the district's guidance counselors. The results of that investigation were reported to respondent board on August 15, 1991. The report indicated that the teacher had not used undue force and was justified in restraining petitioners' son because of the student's unpredictable behavior at the time. Petitioners were not satisfied with the results of the investigation and requested respondent board to reprimand the teacher. At the board's request, petitioners met with the teacher and respondent Holdorf on August 30, 1991 to seek a resolution of the matter. No resolution was reached. On September 12, 1991 respondent board met, considered and rejected petitioners' request that it reprimand the teacher. This appeal ensued.

Petitioners maintain that respondents have improperly refused to reprimand the teacher in question for allegedly inflicting corporal punishment upon their son. The reprimand of a teacher is a disciplinary action authorized by Education Law '3020-a(4), and can be imposed by a board of education pursuant to the procedures set forth in Education Law '3020-a (see Matter of Bd. of Ed., Hyde Park Central School District, 22 Ed Dept Rep 203). Although a board of education has broad discretion in determining whether disciplinary action against an employee is warranted (Appeal of Antonelli, 28 Ed Dept Rep 362; Appeal of Young, 26 id. 152; Matter of Fakler, 25 id. 436), it must have a reasonable basis for concluding that disciplinary action is not warranted (Matter of Bartlett, 19 id. 412). I find no basis in the record to conclude that respondent acted unreasonably in determining that no cause existed to further pursue the matter. While the use of physical force on a student is prohibited by '19.5 of the Rules of the Board of Regents, that provision does not prohibit the use of reasonable physical force to restrain a student whose behavior interferes with the orderly performance of school district functions (8 NYCRR 19.5[b][4]). My review of the record indicates that the teacher properly sought to restrain petitioners' son and did not use excessive force in doing so. While petitioners' son apparently suffered a bruise on his arm, it seems that such injury occurred when the student struggled to free himself after the teacher momentarily restrained him from leaving the classroom before the principal arrived. Accordingly, I find no reason to conclude that respondent board abused its discretion in this matter.

Petitioners maintain that respondent board of education conducted an inadequate investigation of the incident and should have interviewed more witnesses. In the course of the board's investigation, one teacher and three students were interviewed. The accounts of those witnesses were substantially similar. In addition, affidavits from three other teachers confirm the essential elements of the incident. There is no proof that the investigation was inadequate or that interviewing additional witnesses would have altered the outcome of the investigation.

I have reviewed petitioners' other contentions and find them to be without merit.