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Decision No. 13,556

Appeal of MARGARET TENBUS and JOANNE KRAACK, on behalf of JESSICA TENBUS and LACEY KRAACK, from action of the Board of Education of the Narrowsburg Central School District regarding class rank.

Decision No. 13,556

(March 6, 1996)

Bernard Silverman, Esq., attorney for respondent

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the refusal of the Board of Education of the Narrowsburg Central School District ("respondent") to designate their daughters valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners are parents of students who attend high school in respondent's district. In August 1995, petitioner Tenbus was informed by the high school guidance counselor that a graduate of the class of 1997 intended to graduate with the class of 1996 and that this would move her daughter Jessica's class ranking from first in the class to second. Consequently, petitioner Kraack's daughter Lacey, who was ranked second in the class, would lose her ranking of second and drop to third. On August 22, 1995, petitioners attended a meeting which addressed the procedures used by the district to determine class rank. At that meeting, petitioners raised concerns that the current class ranking system discouraged students from taking more advanced courses, since grades were not weighted by the course's degree of difficulty.

In a letter dated October 3, 1995, the superintendent informed petitioners that he had reviewed the class ranking policy and decided to maintain the current procedure. In a letter to petitioners dated November 13, 1995, respondent board president reiterated this position, but promised to revisit the continued use of the ranking procedures in the future. This appeal ensued. Petitioners' request for interim relief pending a determination on the merits was denied on December 20, 1995.

Petitioners allege that respondent's system of class ranking is unfair since it does not weigh grades according to a course's degree of difficulty. They request that a shared decisionmaking action team establish reasonable criteria to determine valedictorian and salutatorian awards at graduation. Respondent raises two procedural objections, including failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and failure to clearly and concisely state a claim. Respondent also contends that its system of class ranking is reasonable and should not be changed.

In this case, petitioners' daughters will receive a lower class rank than an accelerated student who has taken only basic core subjects and achieved a higher grade point average. Petitioners contend that this is contrary to sound educational policy, and that respondent should weigh grades according to course difficulty. However, recognition for academic achievement, including designation as valedictorian and salutatorian, is strictly a local matter for which the board of education may impose reasonable standards (Appeal of Maloney, 33 Ed Dept Rep 154; Appeal of Kuttner, 32 id. 39). As long as the local policy in question is not wholly without rational basis, the Commissioner will not impose a different policy.

In this case, there is no basis to determine that respondent's class ranking system is irrational or unreasonable. It is unfortunate, however, that the policy seems to have deprived two outstanding students of recognition for which they worked extremely hard. Perhaps respondent's reexamination of its policy will result in a system that better promotes students to pursue high standards.

I have reviewed the parties' remaining contentions and find them without merit.