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Decision No. 13,699

Appeal of PATRICIA M., on behalf of her son, from action of the Board of Education of the Manhasset Union Free School District regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 13,699

(November 8, 1996)

Gary F. Westfal, Esq., attorney for petitioner

Rains & Pogrebin, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Sharon N. Berlin,

Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the measure of discipline imposed upon her son by the Board of Education of the Manhasset Union Free School District ("respondent"). The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner's son attended Manhasset High School as a senior during the 1995-96 school year. Respondent maintains a policy on academic integrity in effect in the high school. A copy of the policy is mailed to students during the summer prior to each school year, and school officials review this policy with students twice yearly in school assemblies. The policy defines academic dishonesty and the consequences for engaging in acts of academic dishonesty, as well as appeal procedures. The policy was reviewed at the beginning of the 1995-96 school year in an assembly program on September 11, 1995, and petitioner's son was in attendance on that day.

During the 1994-95 school year, petitioner's son was caught in possession of a "crib sheet" during a Spanish examination. The policy defines academic dishonesty to include "using unauthorized notes or devices (including Cliffs Notes or similar published materials as well as personal notes, commonly known as crib sheets)." The high school principal met with petitioner and her son on October 27, 1994 regarding that incident. During that meeting, the student was given another copy of the policy and the principal explained to him the serious consequences that would occur if the same type of behavior occurred again. Petitioner's son was on academic probation for the remainder of the 1994-95 school year.

During the first semester of the 1995-96 school year, petitioner's son was enrolled in Business Law and Word Processing classes with the same teacher. On several occasions during the Word Processing class the first semester, the teacher found petitioner's son standing at her desk, looking in her grade book. The teacher directed him to stay away from her grade book. On Wednesday, November 29, 1995, the teacher again found petitioner's son looking in her grade book during Word Processing class, and again directed him to stay away from her grade book.

On Friday, December 1, 1995, the teacher placed her grade book on her desk during her Business Law class. She moved around in front of her desk and began to distribute papers to the class with her back turned away from her desk. The teacher turned around while distributing the papers and found petitioner's son with pen in hand at her desk with her grade book opened.

The teacher checked the grade book and discovered that petitioner's son had changed one of his Business Law quiz grades from "0" to "100". The student had received the "0" on November 28, 1995, when he was caught copying another student's quiz.

The teacher sent petitioner's son to the associate principal's office. While waiting for him, the student admitted to the associate principal's secretary that he had changed the grade.

The teacher then advised both her supervisor and the high school principal of this incident. The principal spoke with petitioner's son that same day. The student did not deny changing his Business Law grade. The principal told petitioner's son that what he had done was very serious and a meeting would be scheduled with his parents.

On December 11, 1995, the principal met with petitioner, her husband and son to discuss the December 1, 1995 incident. At the meeting the student and his parents did not deny that he had changed the grade in the grade book. The principal explained that the student had again violated the district's Academic Integrity Policy, which makes "changing and/or falsifying a grade in a teacher's grade book" an offense for which students may be recommended for an "X" grade. An "X" is entered as the course grade on the student's official transcript with a notation that the "X" denotes a violation of the Academic Integrity Policy. Further, under the policy the student is removed from the course and is ineligible for senior honors and certain scholarships.

After reviewing the December 1, 1995 incident and the student's prior violation of the policy, the principal notified petitioner that the student would receive an "X" grade for changing his grade in the Business Law grade book. The principal indicated that the student would be removed from the course and assigned to a supervised study hall for that class period. In addition, petitioner's son was suspended from school for one day and was ineligible for any senior honors as well as certain scholarships. The student's guidance counselor was to inform any teachers who might provide college letters of recommendation of the incident.

Petitioner appealed the principal's decision to respondent's Supervisor's Council. After hearing the appeal, the Council voted to uphold the principal's decision. Petitioner was notified of this decision by letter dated December 18, 1995.

Subsequently, petitioner appealed to the superintendent of schools. The superintendent upheld the decision of the Supervisor's Council, and notified petitioner by letter dated January 12, 1996.

On January 18, 1996, petitioner appealed to respondent, and at its February 1, 1996 meeting respondent heard the appeal and voted to uphold the superintendent's decision. This appeal ensued.

As part of her appeal, petitioner requested that I issue a stay prohibiting respondent from entering the "X" grade on her son's transcript, with a notation that he had violated the district's Academic Integrity Policy, and also prohibiting respondent from sending his transcripts to any colleges until a final determination on this appeal was rendered. On February 23, 1996 the stay request was denied. Consequently, in view of the fact that respondent provided the student's transcript to colleges in February 1996, that part of the appeal which seeks to prohibit that action is moot (Appeal of Capeless, 35 Ed Dept Rep 454; Appeal of Hartmann, 32 id. 640).

I note for the record that, although petitioner's son graduated in June 1996, such does not render all aspects of the appeal moot. Petitioner asserts that the entry on her son's permanent school records of an "X" with a notation that such "X" denotes violation of respondent's Academic Integrity Policy is likely to adversely affect her son's future career choices. Consequently, the harm alleged to petitioner's son is continuing in nature and warrants review.

The issue presented in this appeal is limited in scope. Petitioner does not contest respondent's Academic Integrity Policy or the sanctions prescribed under the policy for its violation. Nor does she claim that respondent failed to properly follow its policy in this instance. The sole issue presented for review in the petition is whether the measure of discipline imposed on her son is proportionate to his conduct. Specifically, petitioner claims that, although her son changed his grade in the teacher's grade book, his actions were only intended as a prank. As such, petitioner contends the measure of discipline imposed on him was disproportionate to his offense. Respondent disputes the student's actions were intended as a prank and asserts that, having found petitioner's son violated its Academic Integrity Policy, the measure of discipline imposed was appropriate and proper in all respects.

In an appeal to the Commissioner of Education, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing the facts upon which relief is sought (Appeal of Coleman, 35 Ed Dept Rep 599; Appeal of Lemley, 33 id. 284). In this case, petitioner has produced no evidence in the record to support her contention that her son was merely engaging in a prank.

The record is devoid of any evidence indicating that petitioner's son's demeanor on December 1, 1995 signified that he intended to pull a prank, nor has petitioner presented statements by other students in the class indicating that they perceived his actions to be a prank. Further, petitioner's son did not indicate to the teacher on the day of the incident that he had intended his actions as a prank. Likewise, petitioner's son met with the principal on December 1, 1995 immediately following the incident and did not indicate to him that his actions were intended as a prank.

In view of the foregoing, I am unpersuaded by petitioner's claim that her son's action in changing his grade was intended as a prank. The evidence simply does not support that assertion. Therefore, I find no basis to substitute my judgment for that of respondent.

Moreover, even if petitioner's son's actions were intended as a prank, in light of the prior incident of academic dishonesty during the 1994-95 school year, his having received several warnings to stay away from the teacher's grade book, and his having received a 0 grade on a quiz in his Business Law class during that same week for cheating, it was entirely appropriate for respondent to enforce its policy strictly and give petitioner's son an "X" grade.

As noted above, no procedural issues have been raised by the petitioner. Nor has the petitioner challenged the validity of the policy itself. The only issue here is the reasonableness of the "X" grade received by her son. For the reasons set forth above, I find respondent's actions were not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable under the circumstances. I, therefore, will not disturb its determination.