Decision No. 14,134
Appeal of J. CRAIG WRIGHT, on behalf of ZACHARY WRIGHT, from action of the Board of Education of the Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District regarding student discipline.
Decision No. 14,134
(May 25, 1999)
Ruberti, Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Kristine Amodeo Lanchantin, Esq., of counsel
MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District ("respondent") refusing to modify his son’s suspension from the high school basketball team. The appeal must be dismissed.
Petitioner’s son, Zachary, is a senior at the Waterford-Halfmoon High School. On December 16, 1998, Zachary drove three other students to school in his car. Because the four arrived late, they reported to the principal’s office, in accordance with school rules. While the four students were in the principal’s outer-office, the principal’s secretaries detected a strong odor of marijuana on the students’clothing and summoned the principal. After detecting the odor, the principal contacted the local police and the students’ parents. In the presence of the police, Zachary admitted to the principal that he had smoked marijuana in the car en route to school with the other three students. After obtaining Zachary’s permission, police officers searched Zachary’s car and discovered a marijuana joint in the ashtray. The principal immediately suspended the four students from school for one day and referred them to the school’s drug counselor.
At the time of this incident, Zachary was a member of the Waterford-Halfmoon basketball team. The district’s student handbook prohibits students involved in athletic and extra-curricular activities from smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs, and specifies that a student shall be dismissed from the team or the activity for the remainder of the season for a first violation of this policy. In accordance with the district’s policy, the principal suspended Zachary from the basketball team for the remainder of the season in addition to the one-day suspension from school. Zachary was the only one of the four students involved who was a member of the high school basketball team.
By letter dated December 18, 1998, petitioner asked the principal to reconsider the decision to suspend Zachary from the basketball team on the grounds that the district’s extra-curricular policy, as applied to Zachary, was "inequitable" because the three other students involved in the marijuana incident had received only a one-day suspension from school.
By letter dated December 28, 1998, petitioner reiterated to respondent’s interim superintendent of schools his concerns regarding the district’s extra-curricular policy and asked him to reconsider the decision to suspend Zachary from the basketball team. By letter dated January 8, 1999, the superintendent informed petitioner that respondent had refused to modify the extra-curricular policy and that petitioner’s son would not be allowed to play basketball for the remainder of the season. This appeal ensued. On January 26, 1999, petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied.
Petitioner contends that the district’s extra-curricular policy is deficient because it does not address what he refers to as "concurrent drug violations by two or more students". He also complains that his son has been disciplined more severely than the three other students involved in this incident. For relief, petitioner seeks his son’s reinstatement to the basketball team, a determination that his son should not have been removed from the team, and an order expunging the team suspension from his son’s school record.
Respondent contends that the district’s extra-curricular policy is fair and that respondent has not abused its discretion in applying the policy to Zachary.
Preliminarily, I note that the high school basketball season ended on February 12, 1999. Accordingly, to the extent that petitioner seeks his son’s reinstatement to the basketball team, this proceeding is moot (Appeal of Douglas and Judy H., 36 Ed Dept Rep 224). However, I will address petitioner’s claim on the merits because petitioner also seeks the expungement of his son’s school record (id.).
In an appeal before the Commissioner of Education, petitioner has the burden of establishing the facts upon which he seeks relief (8 NYCRR "275.10; Appeal of Uebel, 38 Ed Dept Rep 375) and the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested (Appeal of Catherine B., 37 Ed Dept Rep 34). A board of education has very broad authority to establish reasonable standards of conduct for participation in extracurricular activities, and unless it can be shown that the board has abused its discretion, its policy will be upheld (Appeal of Cynthia and Robert W., 37 Ed Dept Rep 437; Appeal of Catherine B. 37 id. 34; Appeal of Douglas and Judy H. et al., 36 id. 224).
Upon review, I do not find the district’s extra-curricular policy, or respondents’ enforcement of that policy against Zachary to be an abuse of discretion. The district’s student handbook clearly apprised Zachary that if he used illegal drugs, he would be removed from the team for the remainder of the season. I find that the district’s policy requiring students to refrain from using drugs as a condition of participating in extra-curricular activities is reasonable, and have sustained suspensions under similar circumstances (Appeal of Cynthia and Robert W., supra). The record establishes that Zachary admitted smoking the marijuana, behavior clearly prohibited by the district’s extra-curricular policy. Under these circumstances, I find that the decision to suspend Zachary from the basketball team for the remainder of the season was proper.
Nor do I find the punishment imposed on Zachary to be inequitable. The three other students involved in this incident were not members of the basketball team and therefore could not be suspended from the team. Respondent acknowledges that if the three other students had been members of the team they also would have been suspended. Petitioner correctly notes that because Zachary was a member of the basketball team, he had "more to lose" than the three other students involved in this incident. However, the mere fact that Zachary had "more to lose", does not render respondent’s enforcement of the extra-curricular policy against him unfair or inequitable.
THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.
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