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Decision No. 12,716

Appeal of WILHELM AND LYNN R., on behalf of their son, from action of the Board of Education of the Pelham School District concerning the grading of an examination.

Decision No. 12,716

(June 16, 1992)

Plunkett & Jaffe, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Adele K. Waine, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal from respondent board of education’s decision to give their son a grade of zero on an examination and a make-up examination in response to his involvement in theft and possession of the exam. Petitioners request an order directing respondent to assign their son the grade he actually earned in place of the zero and to expunge their son’s records. The appeal must be dismissed.

On June 13, 1991, petitioners’ son took his final examination in Math 12 pre-calculus. The next day, the high school principal learned that the examination and answer key may have been stolen from the math office. In response, the principal immediately arranged to prepare and administer a new examination to all the students. Petitioner’s son received an "A" on the first exam and a "B+" on the second exam. The principal simultaneously initiated an investigation of the alleged theft, by interviewing both parents and students and having the teacher analyze the students’ answer sheets. Based on the statements of the other students involved in the incident, which implicated petitioners’ son in the theft, and the teacher’s review of the student’s test, the principal concluded that petitioners’ son was one of four students involved in the theft of the examination. Because of his involvement in the theft, petitioners’ son received a zero on both the original and make-up examinations and was denied open campus privileges for the first semester of the 1991-92 school year. The decision was affirmed by respondent’s superintendent on November 1, 1991 and the board of education on January 16, 1992. This appeal ensued.

Petitioners assert that their son was not involved in the theft of the examination and should, therefore, receive either the "A or a "B+," he actually earned. They also contend that giving him a zero on the examination is punitive and, therefore, improper. They further assert that denying their son "open campus" privileges for one semester is an excessive penalty.

Respondent asserts that given the student’s involvement in the theft of the examination, giving him a zero on the examination was an appropriate academic sanction. Respondent also asserts that limiting his privileges during free periods for one semester was reasonable. In response to petitioners’ request that the record of the incident be expunged, respondent indicates that the record of the incident would remain confidential and be destroyed upon the student’s graduation.

With regard to the student’s restriction of "open campus" privileges, I note that the restriction ended prior to the commencement of this appeal. Since I will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision upon a state of facts which no longer exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal ofVachon, 28 Ed Dept 276; Matter of Rondot, 27 id. 143), the matter is moot and must be dismissed.

With regard to respondent’s decision to give the student a zero on the examination, I will not substitute my judgment for that of the board of education regarding a student’s grade unless the board’s determination was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable (Appeal of Thomas andJudith K., 30 Ed Dept Rep 245; Appeal of Kelly, 28 id. 553; Appeal of Bittner, 25 id. 314). Furthermore, where the integrity of an examination is compromised and a student is found to have been involved in related activities, giving the student a zero on the examination constitutes an appropriate academic sanction (Appeal of Thomas and JudithK., supra.; Appeal of Thomas and Judith M., 29 Ed Dept Rep 277; Matter of Ford, 21 id. 393). To do otherwise would give the student who cheated an unjust advantage over the other students whose grades accurately reflect their knowledge of the subject matter.

Concerning the first examination, respondent concluded after full investigation that petitioners’ son had access to the examination and the answer key. According to the record, the principal concluded that petitioners’ son was involved in the incident based, in part, on the teacher’s review of the student’s examination and inconsistencies she found between his worksheets and his answers for which he had no adequate explanation. Furthermore, the student’s answer sheet contained the same incorrect answer found on the original answer key. Since I am satisfied that the superintendent had a sufficient basis to conclude that the student had prior access to the scheduled examination, the decision to award petitioners’ son a zero was justified.

Concerning the decision to give the student a zero on the make-up examination, the issue is whether it was punitive. To warrant an academic sanction, the student’s misconduct must be related to his academic performance (Matter of MacWhinnie, 20 Ed Dept Rep 145). Respondent concluded, after full investigation, that petitioners’ son cheated on his first mathematics examination. Because the integrity of the first examination was destroyed by the actions of the four students, including petitioners’ son, respondent administered a second examination. Since the student’s involvement in the theft of the first examination compromised the integrity of the examination to the extent it became necessary to give a make-up examination, there is no basis to allow this student the opportunity to benefit from his involvement in the incident. I find that respondent’s decision to give the student a zero on the make-up examination as well constitutes a reasonable academic sanction. Because cheating on an examination is directly related to academic performance, and cannot be tolerated, I do not find the imposition of a zero in this instance arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.