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Decision No. 13,128

Appeal of MARY ELLEN SANFILIPPO, on behalf of Brandon Sanfilippo, from action of the Board of Education of the Clarence Central School District relating to disciplinary action against a teacher.

Decision No. 13,128

(March 3, 1994)

Schwendler & Dolloff, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, Paul W. Dolloff, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner's son, Brandon Sanfilippo, is a fourth grade student at Ledgeview Elementary School in the Clarence Central School District. Respondent is the board of education. Petitioner seeks review of respondent's actions concerning an incident which allegedly occurred in her son's fourth grade class on May 18, 1993. Petitioner requests an order reprimanding her son's classroom teacher, directing that the teacher admit to wrongdoing and publicly apologize, directing that the teacher seek professional counselling, and mandating the district to monitor the teacher's classroom. The appeal must be dismissed.

According to petitioner's papers, her son told her that on May 18, during a science lesson, the classroom teacher became angry with a number of students because he felt that they had damaged certain classroom equipment and had made the classroom untidy. According to petitioner's son the teacher became agitated, screamed at the children, kicked chairs, threw batteries, and one of the batteries struck her son on the forehead. Petitioner telephoned the principal of the Ledgeview Elementary School and related what her son had told her. Petitioner also met with the principal and the classroom teacher to discuss her son's complaint.

On May 21, 1993 the elementary school principal wrote to the classroom teacher stating that he had acted inappropriately, that his behavior was unacceptable and reminding him that teachers had to be role models for children. The principal stated that, as educators, teachers must display the behavior that they wish children to emulate. The principal provided the classroom teacher with a list of resources to assist him in forming more effective and appropriate strategies to deal with student misconduct.

On June 1, 1993, petitioner requested that her son be removed from the teacher's classroom. That request was granted on June 3. In a letter to respondent dated June 7, petitioner described the alleged incident as related to her by her son, advised respondent that other children in the classroom had similarly described the incident to their parents, and asked the board to review the matter and advise petitioner of its findings.

On June 16, the superintendent of schools wrote to petitioner advising her that, at an executive session on June 14, respondent reviewed petitioner's letter and the Ledgeview Elementary School principal's letter to the classroom teacher. Based on that review, respondent advised petitioner that the classroom teacher's behavior on May 18, 1993 was inappropriate and that the teacher had been so informed by the principal. The superintendent's letter concluded by stating that if petitioner had any further questions or concerns, she should not hesitate to contact the superintendent or the elementary school principal. Petitioner commenced this appeal by serving the superintendent of schools on June 16, 1993.

As stated above, the relief requested by petitioner in this matter is directed at the elementary classroom teacher who allegedly engaged in the inappropriate behavior. In addition to denying personal knowledge of the accuracy of petitioner's claims, respondent contends that because petitioner failed to join the classroom teacher as a party in this appeal, the proceeding should be dismissed. Respondent also raises several other defenses, including a contention that petitioner failed to secure affidavits of witnesses to the incident in question and, therefore, failed to meet her burden of proof. Respondent also maintains that the exclusive method for disciplining tenured public school teachers is provided for in Education Law '3020-a, and that there has been no formal action by respondent which would aggrieve petitioner and afford a basis for commencing an appeal.

When an individual's rights may be affected by a determination in an appeal brought pursuant to Education Law '310, that individual must be joined as a party (Appeal of Dreymann, 32 Ed Dept Rep 592; Appeal of Spadone, 25 id. 9; Application of Griffin, 31 id. 221). Since the relief requested by petitioner in this appeal is directed solely at the elementary classroom teacher and the teacher has not been joined as a party, the appeal must be dismissed.

While the type of behavior allegedly engaged in by this teacher is unacceptable, if I were to reach the merits of this matter, I would nevertheless find that respondent's actions have been in all respects appropriate. Petitioner's allegations, if substantiated by competent evidence, would indicate that the classroom teacher engaged in inappropriate behavior in his science classroom on the day in question. Respondent promptly cautioned the teacher that further incidents of this sort would not be tolerated and suggested means which the teacher could use to control his classroom without the unacceptable outbursts that allegedly occurred in this case. There is no evidence in the record before me that this teacher has ever engaged in similar behavior. Since the classroom teacher has been admonished by respondent to refrain from repetition of the conduct deemed unacceptable, in my judgment, respondent's actions constitute an appropriate response.

In light of the foregoing, it is not necessary to review all the defenses raised by respondent.