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Decision No. 13,968

Appeal of RONALD S. SHELLI, on behalf of his son, MICHAEL, from action of the Board of Education of the North Colonie Central School District regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 13,968

(June 29, 1998)

David W. Morris, Esq., attorney for respondent

MILLS, Commissioner--Petitioner appeals the disciplinary sanctions imposed on his son, Michael, by the Shaker High School principal as a result of a fight and respondent board’s refusal to review the discipline imposed. The appeal must be dismissed.

On February 1, 1996, there was an altercation between petitioner’s son and two other students in the weight room at Shaker High School. It appears that petitioner’s son said something which angered one of the other students, that further words were exchanged, and that a fight involving all three students resulted.

Following an investigation of the matter, the high school principal concluded that all three students had participated in the fight and that petitioner’s son had been the instigator. Petitioner’s son was suspended from school for three days and from four lacrosse games. The other two students involved in the fight each received a one and one-half day school suspension and a three game athletic suspension.

Petitioner appealed the principal’s decision to respondent which, in a letter dated February 13, 1996, declined to consider the matter. Petitioner commenced this appeal on March 11, 1996 and requested an interim order. On March 20, 1996, that request was denied.

Petitioner contends that his son was discriminated against because his punishment was more severe than that imposed upon the other two students involved in the fight. He asserts that all three students should have been given a one game athletic suspension for fighting. Petitioner further contends that respondent’s staff improperly decided to suspend his son and not to suspend one of the other boys before the investigation of the incident was completed.

Respondent contends that the building principal reasonably concluded that all three boys were involved in the fight and should be disciplined therefor. Respondent further argues that the principal was justified in concluding that petitioner’s son had instigated the incident and in imposing a harsher punishment on him. Finally, respondent asserts that there was no undue delay in completing the investigation and notifying petitioner of the results.

Pursuant to Education Law "3214(3)(b), a board of education may authorize a school principal to suspend a student for a period not to exceed five school days. When a suspension is imposed by a principal the student and parent must be afforded an opportunity for an informal conference (Education Law "3214(3)[b]). Respondent asserts and petitioner does not deny that the Shaker High School principal has been authorized to suspend students for up to five school days, and it appears from the record that petitioner did meet with the principal.

The decision to suspend a student from school must be based on competent and substantial evidence that the student participated in the objectionable conduct (Appeal of Osoris, 36 Ed Dept Rep 330; Appeal of Homick, 34 id. 150). Procedures governing any suspension from extracurricular activities must be fair and give the student and parent an opportunity to discuss the conduct being reviewed with the person authorized to impose the discipline (Appeal of Winchell, 35 Ed Dept Rep 221).

The record indicates that the school administration conducted a thorough investigation of the fight in the weight room, as a result of which the principal reasonably concluded that petitioner’s son should be suspended. In accordance with a board of education policy adopted May 22, 1995, a suspension from school automatically results in a suspension from interscholastic sports for at least a specified number of games as determined by a formula set forth in that policy. In this instance, petitioner’s son’s athletic suspension was imposed in accordance with that policy. Although petitioner asserts that it was unreasonable to impose a penalty in excess of a one game suspension, I find that the three school day suspension imposed by the principal and the four game athletic suspension resulting therefrom were reasonable.

At the time he brought the appeal, petitioner believed that the two students who fought with his son were neither suspended from school nor given athletic suspensions. It appears from the record, however, that both students were suspended from school and from participation in athletics. While the record contains inconsistent statements about what actually transpired on February 1, 1996, I find that there was a reasonable basis for the principal to conclude that petitioner’s son instigated the fight and should receive a more stringent penalty.

Petitioner asserts that a decision to suspend his son but not to suspend at least one of the other two boys was made before the investigation was completed. That assertion is not supported by the record. While petitioner alleges that a sworn deposition of one of the boys involved in the incident states that respondent’s hall principal indicated that a premature decision had been made, petitioner failed to produce a copy of that statement. Moreover, the suspension was imposed not by the hall principal but by the high school principal after the completion of his investigation, and, as noted above, all three of the boys involved in the fight were disciplined.