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Decision No. 13,711

Appeal of WHITNEY POINT CONCERNED PARENTS ASSOCIATION, president and representative, SANDY STARNER from action of the Board of Education of the Whitney Point Central School District in refusing to take disciplinary action against a teacher.

Decision No. 13,711

(December 9, 1996)

Coughlin & Gerhart, L.L.P., attorneys for respondent, Frank W. Miller, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the failure of the Board of Education of the Whitney Point Central School District ("respondent") to discharge a part-time teacher and coach. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner is an unincorporated association, many of whose members are parents of children in the Whitney Point Central School District. At the time this appeal was commenced, petitioner sought the discharge of a part-time physical education teacher who had been employed by the district for approximately three years. The teacher had also been a coach of several different sports, including boys' baseball. In addition, the teacher was the wife of an officer of respondent.

During the spring of 1996, several parents made complaints about the teacher's alleged incompetence as a physical education teacher, and further alleged incompetence as a baseball coach. The complaints ranged from a basic lack of knowledge of the game of baseball to failure to employ appropriate safety measures in practice. There were also complaints that the teacher had on several occasions entered the boys' locker room without giving appropriate warning. Several parents visited the superintendent on April 24, 1996, to air their grievances; the superintendent met with the teacher's husband on April 26; and approximately seven complaining parents attended the board meeting on April 30, 1996. Although respondent took no action to dismiss the teacher, it appears that an administrator in the high school was appointed "co-coach" of the baseball team for the remainder of the season.

It does not appear that respondent ever took any formal vote on whether or not to dismiss the teacher, and the various parents, apparently believing that such a vote would not be taken, commenced this appeal on June 13, 1996.

Petitioners contend that adequate proof of the teacher's incompetence and her allegedly improper entries into the boys' locker room was presented to respondent and the superintendent, and that respondent improperly ignored this information. Respondent generally denies any wrongdoing and raises numerous affirmative defenses, among them untimeliness, mootness --- because the 1996 baseball season in question has ended --- and lack of standing.

On September 9, incidental to a request for further information pursuant to 8 NYCRR '276.5, information reached my Office of Counsel that the teacher in question was no longer employed in any capacity by the district. Several days later, my Office of Counsel also learned from a newspaper article that the teacher's husband had resigned from the school board. Both of these facts were separately confirmed by petitioner and respondent pursuant to a further request made by my Office of Counsel.

This appeal must be dismissed because the matter is now moot. It is clear that the petition herein is entirely concerned with the alleged actions and failings of a particular teacher and her husband. Because neither of those persons has any further official relationship with respondent district, the matter is at an end. It is well settled that the Commissioner will decide only matters which are in actual controversy and will not render a decision upon facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Berheide, 35 Ed Dept Rep 412; Appeal of Healy, 34 id. 611; Appeal of Lanoir, 34 id. 562; Appeal of Hartmann, 32 id. 640; Appeal of Heinz, 31 id. 326). Although petitioner continues to press for a decision on the merits, such a determination would be inappropriate. The reason for refusing to decide moot cases was cogently stated in California v. San Pablo & Tulare R. R., 149 U. S. 308:

The duty of this court, as of every judicial tribunal, is limited to determining rights of persons or of property, which are actually controverted in the particular case before it. When, in determining such rights, it becomes necessary to give an opinion upon a question of law, that opinion may have weight as a precedent for future decisions. But the court is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare, for the government of future cases, principles or rules of law which cannot affect the results as to the thing in issue in the case before it. No stipulation of parties or counsel, whether in the case before the court or in any other case, can enlarge the power, or affect the duty, of the court in this regard.

In view of this disposition, it is unnecessary to consider the parties' other contentions.