Skip to main content

Decision No. 13,840

Appeal of JESSIE M. HARVEY from action of the Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District regarding curriculum.

Decision No. 13,840

(October 10, 1997)

Matthew R. Fletcher, Esq., attorney for respondent


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals respondent's refusal to remove a book from the seventh grade curriculum or, in the alternative, to allow her sons to read a different, equivalent assignment. The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 1996-1997 school year, petitioner's sons were in the seventh grade in respondent's middle school. Early in the school year, petitioner objected to a book entitled A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck. The book was to be assigned as part of the English curriculum toward the end of the school year.

Pursuant to existing procedures, respondent's superintendent referred petitioner's objections to a nine member Instructional Material Review Committee. The committee consisted of five teachers, an administrator, a school librarian, and three parents (one of whom was a member of the board of education). It appears that petitioner's main objection was to a passage of approximately four pages which described the breeding of pigs on a Vermont farm.

On February 10, 1997, the Instructional Material Review Committee reported its findings and recommendations to the superintendent. The committee found that the book was appropriate reading material for seventh grade students, and was consistent with the reading skills taught at that level. The superintendent adopted the committee's findings and communicated his decision to petitioner on February 14. On February 18 petitioner advised the superintendent that she wished to appeal the matter to respondent.

Respondent met on April 7 and considered both written and oral presentations by petitioner. (It is not clear that respondent was asked at that time to consider an alternative reading assignment for petitioner's sons, but petitioner continued to pursue that matter with school administrators.) Respondent voted unanimously to uphold the superintendent's refusal to remove the book from the curriculum.

This appeal was commenced on April 29, 1997. The petition asks for a stay of the district's action in denying petitioner's request for an alternate reading assignment, and asks that I direct that an alternate reading assignment be given. I denied petitioner's stay request on May 2.

Shortly after the denial of the stay request, it appears that the middle school principal suggested that petitioner purchase copies of the book for her sons and remove the pages that were objectionable to her. In that way, her sons could still read almost all of the book as a reading assignment. It also appears that respondent advised petitioner that the parts of the book she considered objectionable would not be covered in classroom discussion or on any examinations. It appears that petitioner did not take advantage of that offer, and that her sons failed to complete the reading assignment.

The appeal must be dismissed as moot. Because the reading assignment has been made and petitioner's sons have failed to complete it, the primary relief sought by petitioner cannot now be granted. It is well settled that the Commissioner of Education will determine only matters in actual controversy and will not ordinarily render a decision on a state of facts that no longer exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 36 Ed Dept Rep 229; Appeal of Berheide, 35 id. 412; Appeal of Brewer, 35 id. 196; Appeal of Healy, 34 id. 611).

The appeal also fails on the merits. Education Law ""701(1) and 1709(4) authorize a board of education to designate the textbooks to be used in its schools. The parents of a student cannot compel a board to use a particular book or to discontinue the use of a particular book (Appeal of Smith, 34 Ed Dept Rep 346; Matter of Mitchell, 13 id. 228).

The record indicates that respondent properly exercised its discretion and followed its procedures in deciding that A Day No Pigs Would Die was appropriate for the seventh grade curriculum. The superintendent properly convened the Instructional Material Review Committee, which produced findings and recommendations for his review. Thereafter, respondent considered the committee's report, the superintendent's decision as well as oral and written materials submitted by petitioner before making a final, unanimous determination. Under these circumstances, I cannot find that respondent's actions were arbitrary or capricious. The authority of a board of education to prescribe the course of study in its schools is broad (Education Law "1709[3], "1804[1]; Appeal of Smith, supra; Appeal of Keen, 32 id. 299), and I find no basis to substitute my judgment for that of respondent in this instance.

I have considered the parties' remaining contentions and found them without merit.