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Decision No. 13,311

Appeal of ARTHUR FRIEDBERG, on behalf of his daughter, LISA, from action of the Board of Education of the Sauquoit Valley Central School District and Robert J. Hanna, Superintendent, regarding admission to the National Honor Society.

Decision No. 13,311

(December 16, 1994)

Evans, Bankert, Cohen, Lutz & Panzone, Esqs., attorneys for petitioner, Daniel S. Cohen, Esq., of counsel

Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Norman H. Gross, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner, on behalf of his daughter, Lisa, challenges the refusal of respondent board to admit Lisa into the National Honor Society (the "society"). The appeal must be dismissed.

In the 1993-94 school year, Lisa completed tenth grade and met the academic requirements for admission into the National Honor Society. For admission to the society, however, an applicant must not only meet the academic requirements, but must also exhibit ability in leadership, character and service. In May 1994, respondent board's faculty council denied Lisa's application for membership in the society because the council found her application deficient in the category of leadership. At petitioner's request, the faculty council reconvened to review Lisa's application and unanimously upheld its prior denial. On June 28, 1994, respondent board unanimously upheld the decision of the faculty council. This appeal followed.

Petitioner alleges that the denial of Lisa's admission was arbitrary and capricious. He further contends that the council discriminated against Lisa because she is Jewish. Respondent board contends its decision to uphold the faculty council's determination was rational and that no discrimination occurred.

A decision regarding admission to the National Honor Society is left to the discretion of a local board of education and its faculty and will not be set aside unless that decision is arbitrary, capricious and without a rational basis (Appeal of Brenner, 25 Ed Dept Rep 219; Appeal of Torre-Tasso, 25 id. 47; Matter of Rezac, 18 id. 327). Petitioner has not shown that respondent board's decision was arbitrary, capricious or irrational. The record reflects that the faculty council reviewed student applications and surveyed staff regarding the character, leadership and service of the applicants. Students receiving an average score above 25 were invited to join the society. Students receiving an average score below 23 were not invited to join the society. Students receiving an average score of 23 through 25 were discussed individually by the six member faculty council. Lisa had an average score of 25. Five students receiving scores of 23 through 25 were invited to join the society. Twelve such students, including Lisa, were not invited to join the society.

The record reveals that the procedure followed in reviewing the applications was consistent for all applicants. The faculty council surveyed staff for evaluations concerning an applicant's leadership, character and service. Teachers were instructed to evaluate only those student applicants about whom they had personal knowledge. Moreover, student applicants were evaluated by at least six faculty members. In all instances, only the evaluations with the six highest scores for each applicant were averaged to arrive at an applicant's final average score. Additionally, students were notified that no student should presume their membership was guaranteed if he or she met the academic eligibility requirement, because a student's application would also be judged for leadership, character and service. The record reflects those procedures were followed in Lisa's case and that, even though it was not required by the procedures, the principal directed the council to reconvene and again review Lisa's application. It thus appears that Lisa's application was given every necessary consideration. Thus, while it is unfortunate that such an exemplary student is not eligible to join the society, I cannot find that respondent's denial of her admission was arbitrary.

I also find no merit to petitioner's contention that the denial should be overturned because petitioner was not supplied with the specific reasons therefor. Rationale for denial of admission to the National Honor Society are not required to be given to an unsuccessful applicant (Appeal of Torre-Tasso, supra). Moreover, in this case, the record reflects that both Lisa and petitioner were supplied with the reasons for her rejection. Petitioner also claims the reasons given were not valid because respondents knew about Lisa's leadership experience and chose to ignore it. However, there is no evidence in the record that respondents wilfully ignored Lisa's experience. In fact, the record reflects that the leadership experience cited by petitioner was not even mentioned by Lisa in her application. Therefore, not only did respondents give reasons to petitioner when they had no obligation to do so, they obviously considered evidence of leadership that Lisa herself failed to introduce.

Moreover, the failure to publish admission procedures is not a basis to reconsider an applicant's admission (Appeal of Torre-Tasso, supra). Accordingly, I will not overturn respondent board's decision because respondent allegedly failed to provide applicants with copies of the evaluation process.

In an appeal before the Commissioner of Education, the petitioner has the burden of establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of Parrish, 32 Ed Dept Rep 261; Appeal of Verity, 31 id. 485; Appeal of Singh, 30 id. 284). Petitioner offers only conclusory statements that the denial of Lisa's admission into the society was discriminatory. Since petitioner's claim is based, in its entirety, on mere speculation unsupported by evidence, the appeal must be dismissed.