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Decision No. 13,608

Appeal of ALBERT and SUZANNE LATTERELL, on behalf of their son, TIMOTHY J. LATTERELL, from action of the Board of Education of the Hudson Falls Central School District regarding suspension from athletic activities.

Decision No. 13,608

(May 17, 1996)

Bernadette M. Hollis, Esq., attorney for petitioners

Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Martin D. Auffredou,

Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal respondent's suspension of their son from athletic activities. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners are the parents of Timothy, a junior at respondent's senior high school. On January 15, 1996, Timothy and his brother were parked in a car adjacent to respondent's high school waiting for wrestling practice to begin. A police officer approached the car, saw the students appearing to hide something under the front seat, and detected the odor of marijuana. A subsequent search of the vehicle found several used marijuana pipes, rolling papers and a bag of marijuana. Timothy was arrested for unlawful possession of marijuana.

The arresting officer subsequently notified respondent's varsity wrestling coach that Timothy had been arrested for possession of marijuana and had used profane, disrespectful and abusive language toward the officer during his investigation. Respondent's athletic committee held an informal hearing to review the incident on January 17, 1996. Petitioners were present and participated in the hearing. At the conclusion, Timothy was suspended from the varsity wrestling team for the remainder of the season. Respondent's principal informed petitioners that the reason for Timothy's suspension was his "blatant disrespect and use of profanity toward the police officer...." This appeal was commenced on February 13, 1996. Petitioners' request for interim relief pending a determination on the merits was denied on February 22, 1996.

Petitioners allege that their son is being punished for conduct in which criminal charges are pending but not resolved and that may be dismissed. Petitioners also contend that respondent has treated other students who have committed similar acts less harshly than their son. Petitioners seek a stay of the athletic suspension, a due process hearing and expungement of the incident from Timothy's school records. Respondent contends that its disciplinary actions toward Timothy were appropriate, since he violated respondent's athletic and training rules. Respondent also contends that its actions were not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Respondent raises a procedural objection that petitioners have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.

Respondent's athletic and training rules for conduct and behavior provide:

Personal behavior (either in or outside of school) resulting in a temporary suspension from school automatically results in temporary suspension for athletics (practice and games).

Insubordination or behavior deemed detrimental to the good of the team is a violation of the training rules. Penalty will be determined after a meeting of the Athletic Committee. This rule would also cover cases of gross misconduct or glaring unsportsman-like conduct during practices or games.

The record indicates that upon notification of Timothy's arrest and conduct towards the officer, respondent's athletic committee met. Petitioners were present at the meeting. The committee determined that because Timothy had used disrespectful and profane language toward a police officer, he had violated the training rules and would be suspended for the wrestling season. Contrary to petitioners' assertions, Timothy was not suspended because he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Respondent's athletic committee specifically determined that Timothy's use of profane and disrespectful language toward the police officer was "conduct unbecoming an athlete" and a violation of the training rules. Although petitioners claim that the officer used force and overbearing interrogation of Timothy, that fact does not justify his disrespectful conduct or use of profanity.

The imposition of discipline pertaining to participation in athletics must meet minimal standards of administrative due process, but a full hearing pursuant to Education Law '3214(3) before the discipline is imposed is not required (Appeal of DeMarchi, 33 Ed Dept Rep 290; Appeal of Hmiel, 30 id. 86; Appeal of Kubinski, 26 id. 348; Matter of Evans, 24 id. 342). Furthermore, it is well established that school authorities may discipline students for conduct which occurs off school grounds when such conduct is a danger to the safety, morals, health or welfare of others (Appeal of Mangaroo, 33 Ed Dept Rep 286; Appeal of Pollnow, 22 id. 547). Although no formal evidentiary hearing was required in this instance, respondent did afford petitioners the opportunity to meet with the athletic committee to discuss the situation. Petitioners were present when the committee determined that Timothy would be suspended from the wrestling team on the basis of conduct unbecoming an athlete for Timothy's use of disrespectful and profane language towards a police officer. Based on the record before me, there is no basis to overturn the discipline imposed by the local school authorities.

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