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Decision No. 13,746

Appeal of JOSEPH HUMAN, on behalf of his son, MICHAEL HUMAN, from action of the Board of Education of City School District of the City of New York regarding course credit.

Decision No. 13,746

(March 14, 1997)

Paul A. Crotty, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, Barbara B. Butler, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the refusal of the New York City School District to grant his son, Michael, credit for an Advanced Placement History of Art course. The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 1995-96 school year, Michael was a senior at the Fort Hamilton High School in respondent's school district. Petitioner alleges that the art history teacher, Ms. Cokines, actively recruited Michael into the Advanced Placement History of Art class, even though she had had him in class the previous year and knew that Michael had "a history of not doing homework." Petitioner alleges that Ms. Cokines and Michael had not signed a student/teacher contract and that neither the students nor their parents were aware of Ms. Cokines's grading criteria, which rely heavily on homework and out-of-class assignments.

On the first grade report of the semester, dated October 25, 1995, Michael received a grade of 45, with the comments "excessively absent" and "required project missing/incomplete." Petitioner claims that the grade for the first reporting period was based on Michael's excessive absences and that respondent did not take his medical condition into account. The second grade report, dated December 8, 1995, listed a grade of 60 for this course and the comments "unprepared for class" and "does not complete assigned readings."

On December 11, 1995, respondent held a guidance conference with petitioner. The minutes reflect the reason for the conference as "disruptive behavior in history of art class." The minutes do not reflect any discussion of Michael's grade, but do indicate that the assistant principal "stressed the importance of homework in high school and college whether Michael likes to do the work or not" and that "Michael promises to . . . do his work for the end of this term." Respondent contends that at the conference Michael was given the opportunity to increase his grade by making up the missed homework assignments without penalty. Petitioner denies that this offer was made and the minutes make no mention of it.

Petitioner alleges that he was not aware that the conference was scheduled because of disruptive behavior until he received the minutes after the conference. Petitioner states that he believed that the purpose of the conference was to discuss whether Michael should be dropped from the course due to his medical condition which restricts him from doing the volume of work required. The minutes do state that the principal "feels that Michael has the ability to do all work," denied permission for him to drop Art History for the fall semester, and granted him permission to drop it for the spring term.

Michael received a final grade of 50 for the fall semester. Petitioner claims that Michael's final grade was based only on homework and does not reflect the score of 85 he received on the one exam administered in the course. Respondent contends that the grade reflects the fact that Michael failed to complete several assignments. It alleges that the following grading system was used by Michael's teacher, which is consistent with the philosophy of an advanced placement course:

class participation 10%

captions and vocabulary 40%

examinations 20%

homework 20%

up-to-date notebook 10%

Apparently, the category designated as "captions and vocabulary" is assigned to be completed out of class in addition to that which is categorized as "homework."

Petitioner questions the pedagogical soundness of the reliance on "homework," rather than exams, and contends that the homework assignments were repetitive and uninteresting.

By letter dated February 1, 1996, respondent appealed Michael's failing grade to Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew. The matter was referred to Linda Aiken, Director of Instruction for the Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools. By letter dated May 15, 1996, Ms. Aiken notified petitioner that she had reviewed the file, interviewed the teacher and her supervisor, and convened a committee of art educators from other high schools which reviewed the History of Art curriculum. The committee found that the course outline is comprehensive and reasonable, that a student/teacher contract exists which explains the grading system, and that although Michael had the opportunity to make up the work without penalty, he did not do so.

On May 31, 1996, respondent entered into an agreement with petitioner and Michael, whereby Michael could receive a passing grade of 65 if he completed six of the nine assignments he failed to complete during the fall semester. Michael did not complete the assignments. This appeal ensued.

Petitioner contends that Michael's failing grade is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. He bases his conclusion on his allegations that no student/teacher contract existed, that the students and parents were not aware of the grading policy as required by respondent's Bill of Students' Rights and Responsibilities and Bill of Parents' Rights and Responsibilities, that Ms. Cokines should not have recruited Michael for this course because she knew that he does not do homework, that respondent did not give Michael the opportunity to make-up the work in December as they contend, and that the district's administrative cover-up is motivated by "saving face." Petitioner requests that Michael's grade for Advanced Placement History of Art be changed from 50 to 85, without completion of the six additional assignments. He also asks that respondent provide a written apology and that any negative correspondence relating to this incident be removed from Michael's file.

Respondent maintains that its actions were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable and that petitioner fails to state a cause of action.

Pursuant to Education Law '1709(3), school boards have the power and duty:

To prescribe the course of study by which the pupils of the schools shall be graded and classified, and to regulate the admission of pupils and their transfer from one class or department to another, as their scholarship shall warrant.

It is well settled that the Commissioner will not substitute his judgment for that of a board of education with regard to a student's grade absent a clear showing that the board's determination was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable (Appeal of Kroll, 35 Ed Dept Rep 372; Appeal of Timbs, 29 id. 392; Appeal of Richardson, 29 id. 70). In an appeal before the Commissioner of Education, the petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested (8 NYCRR 275.10) and the burden of establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks such relief (Appeal of Caldwell, supra; Appeal of Marek, 35 Ed Dept Rep 314).

While the parties do not agree on several facts, based on the record before me, I find that Michael's grade was neither arbitrary, capricious, nor unreasonable. Petitioner admits that Michael did not complete the assigned homework. Respondent produced Ms. Cokines grading criteria, which respondent maintains are appropriate for an advanced placement course. Whether or not these criteria were explicitly presented to Michael and petitioner, it was clear from his grades and the comments on the grade reports, dated October 27, 1995 and December 8, 1995, that Michael was failing the course and that certain assignments were not being completed. After Michael received a final grade of 50, upon petitioner's complaint, respondent reviewed the course curriculum involving a committee of art teachers from other schools. Although the review resulted in upholding the grade which had been granted, respondent gave Michael an opportunity to receive a passing grade by completing some of the assignments he had failed to complete during the previous semester. I do not find this arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and therefore, find no basis to substitute my judgment for that of respondent.