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Decision No. 13,974

Appeal of ANA M. LASCALA, on behalf of ARIANA BELFORT and CHLOE DIAZ, from action of the Board of Education of the Sachem Central School District, regarding residency.

Decision No. 13,974

(July 17, 1998)

Ingerman Smith, L.L.P., attorneys for respondent, Neil Block, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Sachem Central School District ("respondent") that her granddaughters, Ariana Belfort and Chloe Diaz, are not entitled to attend the district's schools on a tuition-free basis. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner resides at 46A Masonic Avenue, Holtsville, within the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District ("Patchogue-Medford") and, apparently, is the guardian of her granddaughters who reside with her. Ariana and Chloe have attended respondent's schools on a tuition-free basis since February 1996 and September 1996, respectively. In September 1997, respondent discovered that Ariana and Chloe did not reside within the district and notified petitioner that they would no longer be allowed to attend its schools tuition-free. Petitioner requested, and responded granted an extension of the date of exclusion until the December 1997 holiday break. This appeal ensued. On January 15, 1998, I denied petitioner's request for interim relief.

Petitioner alleges that her house is on the boundary line dividing the Sachem and Patchogue-Medford districts. Petitioner further alleges that at the time she purchased the house at 46A Masonic Avenue, the previous owner gave her a letter from Patchogue-Medford that indicated that residents of the house would be permitted to attend respondent's schools. Petitioner contends that in 1978 she gave that letter to respondent's registrar and enrolled her daughter in respondent's schools. Petitioner argues that, having set a precedent, respondent is required to continue to permit students residing at her address to continue in its schools on a tuition-free basis. Petitioner requests a determination allowing her granddaughters to continue in respondent's schools, tuition-free, until the end of the 1997-98 school year.

Respondent contends that it has no record of the letter petitioner allegedly gave to its registrar in 1978 and that petitioner pays school taxes to Patchogue-Medford.

Respondent states that it does not accept nonresident students and asserts that petitioner's residence is located within Patchogue-Medford, approximately 1/8 to 1/4 mile from its boundary line. Respondent argues that the petition should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and because petitioner and her grandchildren do not reside within its district. Respondent also contends that since petitioner only requested relief for the 1997-98 school year, the entire matter is moot.

The appeal must be dismissed as moot. It is well settled that the Commissioner will only consider matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Schuler, 37 Ed Dept Rep 512; Appeal of Lawson, 36 id. 450). Petitioner only requests relief for the 1997-98 school year. As that school year has ended, the issue is moot.

Even if it were not moot, the appeal must be dismissed on the merits. Petitioner admits that she is a resident of Patchogue-Medford. As such, students residing at her residence would attend schools in that district. Education Law "3202(1) provides, in pertinent part:

A person over five and under twenty-one years of age who has not received a high school diploma is entitled to attend the public schools maintained in the district in which such person resides without the payment of tuition.

The purpose of this statute is to limit the obligation of school districts to provide tuition-free education to students whose parents or legal guardians reside within the district (Appeal of Allen, 35 Ed Dept Rep 112; Appeal of Brutcher, 33 id. 56; Appeal of Curtin, 27 id. 446). A mistake by a school district in allowing nonresident students to attend its schools tuition-free does not vest any legal right in such students to continue to attend on a tuition-free basis (Appeal of Marston, 34 Ed Dept Rep 105). The mere fact that petitioner’s grandchildren may have some difficulty in adjusting to a new school, while regrettable, is not a sufficient basis to overturn respondent’s determination not to allow their continued attendance at its schools (Id.). Accordingly, the appeal must be dismissed.