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Decision No. 13,946

Appeal of S.P. from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Newburgh regarding the designation of a co-valedictorian.

Decision No. 13,946

(May 26, 1998)

Carol Novack and Joseph J. Mainiero, Esqs., attorneys for petitioner

Shaw & Perelson, LLP, attorneys for respondent, David S. Shaw and Pilar Sokol, Esqs., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Newburgh ("respondent") to designate the salutatorian of the 1997 graduating class to be co-valedictorian with petitioner. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner was a member of the 1997 graduating class of respondent’s high school. She had received instruction at home due to a disability: legal blindness. As of the third quarter of the senior year, petitioner ranked the highest in her graduating class, with a grade point average of 97.985; however, she was not graduating with a Regents diploma. The senior with the second highest average in the class, J.W., was to receive a Regents diploma and had an average of 97.4838. In addition, J.W. had successfully completed 11 honors courses as well as 4 advanced placement courses.

At the May 13, 1997 school board meeting, J.W.'s parents met with respondent to discuss the issue of naming co-valedictorians. Respondent took the matter under advisement and agreed to decide the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for May 27, 1997. At the May 27th meeting, J.W., her parents, and other seniors, requested that the board confer co-valedictorian status on her. Respondent decided to revise its academic achievement policy to allow the class to have co-valedictorians under limited circumstances. Neither petitioner nor her parent was notified that this issue would be addressed at the May 27th meeting.

The policy adopted by respondent on May 27 provided that, "whenever the valedictorian and/or salutatorian designated under this policy are not participants in the school’s Regents diploma program, the first and/or second highest ranked members of the Regents diploma program will be designated co-valedictorian and/or co-salutatorian, respectively, in recognition of the outstanding efforts of all involved." Under this new policy, J.W. was designated co-valedictorian with petitioner.

On June 19, 1997, petitioner commenced this appeal and requested that respondent be directed to honor petitioner as the sole valedictorian and additionally requested a stay pending a determination in this appeal. Petitioner's stay request was denied on June 24, 1997.

Petitioner contends that respondent’s determination was unprecedented, represented a radical change in policy, and constituted a clear abuse of discretion. Furthermore, petitioner alleges that respondent's determination discriminated against her based on her disability in violation of: equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Art. 1 "11 of the New York State Constitution, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. "12182, and 42 U.S.C. "1983.

Respondent contends that it re-examined its policy relating to the designation of class valedictorian at the request of J.W., her parents and other members of the class. Respondent maintains that it acted reasonably, rationally, and within its discretion. Respondent also maintains that the petition should be dismissed for failure to join J.W. as a necessary party, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

I will first address the procedural defense raised by respondent that the petition must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party. A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Edward G., 36 Ed Dept Rep 9; Appeal ofConcerned Taxpayers Awareness Group, 35 id. 448; Appeal of Chesbrough, 32 id. 647). In this case, the interests of the co-valedictorian, J. W., would be adversely affected if the Commissioner were to grant the relief requested, in that J.W. would become the class salutatorian. Accordingly, the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party.

The appeal must also be dismissed on the merits. Designation of a valedictorian or salutatorian is a local award for which reasonable standards may be imposed by a board of education (Appeal of Tenbus and Kraack, 35 Ed Dept Rep 320; Appeal of Konkoski, 33 id. 303; Appeal of Maloney, 33 id. 154). In this case, the board changed its academic recognition policy to enable it to acknowledge the academic achievement of the highest ranking student in its Regents program and the highest ranking student in its non-Regents program. I do not find this decision to be irrational or unreasonable.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that petitioner was disadvantaged in this situation by her disability as respondent recognized her achievement by naming her class co-valedictorian. I find no evidence in this record that respondent violated petitioner’s civil rights by naming a co-valedictorian.