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Decision No. 14,198

Appeal of JACK N. TRAINHAM, on behalf of SARA TRAINHAM, from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Watertown relating to participation in extracurricular activities.

Decision No. 14,198

(August 23, 1999)

Schwerzmann & Wise, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Leslie H. Deming, Esq., of counsel

CATE, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioner initiated two appeals challenging a Code of Conduct adopted by the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Watertown ("respondent") relating to student participation in extracurricular activities. Because both appeals address respondent's actions relating to the same Code of Conduct, they have been consolidated for decision. The appeals must be dismissed.

Petitioner resides in respondent's school district. His daughter attended Watertown High school during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years, as a member of the junior and senior class, respectively. During that time, petitioner's daughter was involved in certain extracurricular activities and, specifically, in the high school student theatrical productions. As a condition of participation in extracurricular activities, respondent required students and their parents to sign a "Statement of Familiarity" indicating they were familiar with the Code of Conduct adopted by respondent, and that the student agreed to adhere to it.

Petitioner challenges respondent's Code of Conduct on two grounds. First, he claims the scope of the Code of Conduct is too broad in that students may be prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities if they are found to have used alcohol or drugs on oroff school grounds. Petitioner challenges respondent's authority to proscribe any student activity off school property. In addition to challenging the scope of the Code of Conduct, petitioner alleges respondent refused to allow his daughter to participate in extracurricular activities unless he agreed to sign the "Statement of Familiarity". Petitioner asserts that his refusal to sign the statement may not provide the basis for disciplinary action with respect to his daughter.

Respondent contends that its Code of Conduct is permissible. With respect to petitioner's refusal to sign the "Statement of Familiarity", respondent claims that petitioner's daughter and wife signed the statement on March 16, 1998 and that petitioner's daughter, in fact, performed in the high school student production of "Grease" in March 1998. Respondent asserts that, therefore, the appeal is moot. In addition, respondent has submitted an affidavit pursuant to 8 NYCRR "276.5 indicating that petitioner's daughter subsequently graduated from Watertown High School. Respondent asserts the appeal is also moot on that basis.

I will first address the procedural arguments raised by respondent. The Commissioner of Education will only decide matters which are in actual controversy and will not render a decision upon facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Wright, 38 Ed Dept Rep 756, Decision No. 14,134; Appeal of Studley, 38 id. 258, Decision No. 14,028). Respondent's claim that the appeals are moot because petitioner's wife signed the "Code of Familiarity", thus permitting petitioner's daughter to participate in extracurricular activities and, in particular, the student production of "Grease" cannot be sustained. The record indicates that the determination to sign the statement was made based upon respondent's assurances that such signature was to be accepted under petitioner's protest and was given merely to facilitate his daughter's participation in the school play despite the pending appeal. Petitioner states that submission of the statement signed by his wife was not intended to signify acquiescence with respondent's requirement that a parent sign the statement or agreement with the content of the Code of Conduct. After considering petitioner's reasons regarding his wife's signature on the "Statement of Familiarity", I do not find that such action renders the appeals moot (See, Appeal of Logan, 38 Ed Dept Rep 694, Decision No. 14,120).

Respondent's alternative argument regarding mootness is, however, persuasive. Respondent submits an affidavit indicating that, subsequent to the filing of the appeals, petitioner's daughter graduated and no longer attends school in respondent's district. Moreover, she also performed in the extracurricular high school student production of "Grease" as she desired. Accordingly, petitioner's daughter may be granted no further meaningful relief.

In view of the procedural disposition of the appeals, I need not address the parties' other claims.