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Decision No. 13,957

Appeal of JANET WOODROW, from action of the Board of Education of the Schenevus Central School District regarding board policy.

Decision No. 13,957

(June 11, 1998)

Victor M. DeBonis, Esq., attorney for respondent

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the application of board policy in a student discipline matter by the Board of Education of the Schenevus Central School District ("respondent"). The appeal must be dismissed.

During a school sponsored trip to Spain, several students engaged in misconduct related to the consumption of alcohol. Three of respondent board members’ children participated in this trip, and another board member is related to another student involved in the incident. Respondent conducted an investigation regarding the matter on February 26 and 27, 1997.

On March 3, 1997, respondent board called a special meeting to discuss this incident and board Policy #7320 on alcohol, drugs and other substances. Since no resolution of the matter was reached, respondent agreed to reconvene the meeting at 7:40 am the following day. On March 4, 1997, three of respondent’s five members voted to "amend" Policy #7320 as applied to this incident, pursuant to the following motion:

Students on the 1997 trip to Spain found by investigation to have violated substance abuse Policy #7320 would:

  1. Be suspended from extra-curricular activities for a two week period retroactive to the date of the incident (2/19/97)
  2. Be assigned 15 hours work duties outside the school building to be served on 2 Saturdays
  3. Be assigned one period per week school service to be served during the school day outside said student’s academic schedule
  4. Be referred as per Policy #7320 to the Student Assistance Counselor
  5. Write an essay of apology to trip chaperones and Board of Education

The minutes of this board meeting state "Implementation of each of the above is assigned to the Superintendent."

On March 11, 1997, a regularly scheduled meeting of respondent was held. Many faculty, staff, parents students and community members attended that meeting to express their concerns regarding the recent Spanish field trip and respondent’s actions with regard to the students involved. On March 13, 1997, a special meeting of respondent was called to continue discussion of this issue. At that meeting, respondent considered the following motion:

Resolved that the Board of Education amend Policy #7320 and order the Superintendent to impose the following:

  1. Referral of students to Student Assistance Counselor for evaluation and counseling
  2. Imposition of a 1 full day of in-school suspension
  3. Imposition of a 5 week suspension from extra-curricula activities; student effected by this suspension would be given one week served with 4 weeks to be served from March 17 through April 11
  4. 15 hours of school service to be served on April 5 and April 12.

Respondent voted 5 to 0 in favor of this motion. This appeal ensued.

Petitioner alleges that respondent acted inappropriately in its alleged amendment of Policy #7320 and seeks an admission of wrongdoing by respondent. Petitioner also seeks an apology for respondent’s conduct, a restoration of the original board policy, as well as an order directing respondent to desist from further violations of its own policies and precluding respondent from altering its policies for the benefit of individual board members. Respondent contends that petitioner lacks standing, that the appeal is untimely and that petitioner inappropriately seeks to bring a class appeal on behalf of the student body. Respondent also contends that petitioner has failed to establish any improper action by the board.

Before reaching the merits, I will address respondent’s procedural defenses. First, respondent contends that petitioner lacks standing since she is not personally aggrieved by respondent’s actions, nor does she allege any relationship with a student affected by respondent’s actions. The record does not reflect that petitioner is either the parent of a student attending respondent’s schools or a district resident. Generally, an individual may not maintain an appeal pursuant to Education Law "310 unless she is aggrieved in the sense that she has suffered personal damage or injury to her civil, personal or property rights (Appeal of Wenger, 37 Ed Dept Rep 5; Appeal of Szymkowiak, 36 id. 204; Appeal of Shabot, 35 Ed Dept Rep 289). Therefore, I conclude that petitioner lacks standing to bring this appeal.

Secondly, respondent contends that petitioner purports to bring this appeal as a class appeal on behalf of the student body. An appeal may only be maintained on behalf of a class "where the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable and where all questions of fact and law are common to all members of the class" (8 NYCRR 275.2; Appeal of Czerepak, 31 Ed Dept Rep 448). Petitioner must set forth the number of individuals she seeks to represent (Appeal of Sperl, 33 Ed Dept Rep 388) and must show that all questions of law and fact would be common to all members of the class (Appeal of Donnelly, 33 Ed Dept Rep 362). Petitioner has failed to do either. Therefore, class status is denied.

Turning to the merits, petitioner initially alleges that respondent lacked the authority to call a special meeting on March 4, 1997. She argues that the meeting was not publicly noticed or properly convened. Board Policy #1520 provided as petitioner’s exhibit B, states that:

A special meeting is a Board meeting other than the annual meeting and the regular meeting of the board. They are usually called for emergency or urgent purposes, or as agreed upon at previous regular or special meetings.

Although petitioner takes issue with respondent’s determination to hold a special meeting and questions whether the issue was actually an "emergency" or "urgent," that judgment is reserved to respondent. As to petitioner’s claims regarding the notice, I have reviewed respondent’s policy and do not find any violation of the notice provisions contained in Policy #1520.

Petitioner also contends that respondent’s alleged alteration of the board policy was improper. The record indicates that while the minutes of the March 3, 4, 11 and 13 meetings all purport to "amend" or "alter" Policy #7320, this policy was never changed from the original policy that was adopted in 1994. It appears from the record that respondent handled the matter under the existing policy and misstated that the policy was being amended, when in fact it was never technically amended. Respondent imposed discipline in the matter consistent with its general authority under Education Law "1709. A board of education has the authority to establish reasonable standards of conduct for participation in extracurricular activities, and unless it is shown that the board has abused its discretion, its policy will be upheld (Appeal of Douglas and Judy H. et al., 36 Ed Dept Rep 224; Appeal of Tee, 27 id. 349; Appeal of Peruzzi, 27 id. 15).

Furthermore, although petitioner alleges violation of respondent’s policy, the record indicates that respondent’s actions were consistent with its policy. Board Policy #7320 specifically states:

Disciplinary Action

Students shall be subject to disciplinary action up to and including (permanent) suspension for using, possessing, distributing, selling, giving or exchanging drugs/alcohol, drug paraphernalia or counterfeit drugs stipulated in District policy on "School Conduct and Discipline."

In this case, respondent found that students had engaged in misconduct that was a violation of its policy. Although petitioner contends that the discipline imposed on the students was insufficient and inconsistent with respondent’s policy, I do not concur.

However, the crux of petitioner’s complaint appears to be the allegation of bias on the part of those board members whose children participated in the objectionable conduct. While respondent was within its discretion to impose the discipline that it did with regard to the students involved, the appearance of impropriety given the relationship of the majority of the board to the involved students was strong. I urge respondent to more carefully consider the public’s perceptions in sensitive matters such as this one in the future, and to permit unbiased school officials to impose the necessary discipline, as it is required to do so under its policy on Joint Code of Conduct for School Boards and Superintendents (Board Policy #2130).