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Decision No. 14,202

Application of the COALITION FOR THE EMPOWERMENT OF PEOPLE OF AFRICAN ANCESTRY for the removal of William C. Prattella and Edward J. Reilly from their positions as Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of the City School District of the City of Mount Vernon.

Appeal of the COALITION FOR THE EMPOWERMENT OF PEOPLE OF AFRICAN ANCESTRY from action of Neil Halperin, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, and E. Joseph Williams, Supervisor of Attendance, of the City School District of the City of Mount Vernon regarding desegregation of schools.


(August 25, 1999)


Richard Klapper, Esq., attorney for petitioner in CEPAA I, Andrew Rotstein, Esq., of counsel

D'Andrea & Goldstein, attorneys for respondents, Vincent D'Andrea, Esq., of counsel


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner, the Coalition for the Empowerment of People of African Ancestry ("petitioner" or "CEPAA"), has filed two appeals with the Commissioner. In the first appeal filed pursuant to Education Law ""306 and 310("CEPAA I"), petitioner seeks to remove Dr. William C. Prattella ("respondent Prattella"), and Dr. Edward J. Reilly ("respondent Reilly") from their offices as the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent, respectively, of the City School District of the City of Mount Vernon (the "district"). Petitioner also challenges the assignment of allegedly uncertified teachers. In the second appeal, filed pursuant to Education Law "310 ("CEPAA II"), petitioner challenges the actions of Neil Halperin, Director of Pupil Personnel Services ("respondent Halperin"), and E. Joseph Williams, Supervisor of Attendance ("respondent Williams"), in implementing the application process for the district's Open Enrollment Program. Because the appeals involve a common issue of law, they are consolidated for decision. Both appeals must be dismissed.

In CEPAA I, petitioner asserts that respondents Prattella and Reilly willfully violated Education Law "3009 because they knew that approximately 33 teachers and administrators were assigned to positions for which they lacked proper certifications and qualifications. Petitioner further contends that respondents failed to respond properly to its Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") requests for information pertaining to the teachers' qualifications. Petitioner requests that the Commissioner enforce the provisions of the Education Law pertaining to the qualification and certification of teachers; review the qualifications and certifications of the 33 named persons; require the district to withhold payment to the allegedly unqualified teachers and administrators; remove respondents Prattella and Reilly from office; and take away their professional licenses and certifications.

In CEPAA II, petitioner asserts that respondents Halperin and Williams failed to implement the application process for the district's Open Enrollment Program fairly and in a manner designed to carry out the program's intent, and that the district did not properly answer its FOIL requests. Petitioner requests that the Commissioner order respondents to comply with the Open Enrollment Program, refrain from using the availability of seats at the Pennington-Grimes Elementary School as a criterion for accepting students under the Open Enrollment Program, and desist in giving preferential treatment for admission into the Open Enrollment Program to friends, employees of the district and former school board members who do not properly comply with the application procedures for the Program. Petitioner also asks that I suspend respondents for 30 days without pay, and compensate the students and parents affected by respondents' actions by permitting the students to enroll in the north side school of their choice immediately, and by awarding compensatory damages.

Respondents deny petitioner's contentions in both appeals. Specifically, in CEPAA I, respondents assert that no teachers were employed by the district who were not properly qualified and certified and, in any event, the teachers' credentials and certifications have been reviewed and all teachers and administrators are currently duly qualified and certified for the positions to which they are assigned. In CEPAA II, respondents assert that the application process for the Open Enrollment Program was handled properly and fairly, and deny all allegations of preferential treatment.

Respondents also raise a number of procedural objections. Respondents contend that petitioners in both proceedings lack standing to maintain these appeals, because they are an unincorporated organization and because they allege no injury or harm to the organization; that the district's board of education is a necessary party; that the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction over alleged FOIL violations; and that the respective respondents are entitled to due process and a hearing prior to removal from office or being disciplined or suspended. In CEPAA I, respondents further allege that petitioner's claims are moot because any problems regarding proper certification have been remedied, and that petitioner has failed to establish any grounds to remove respondents from office. In CEPAA II, respondents further contend that the petition fails to state a clear and concise statement of claim; that the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction to award monetary damages; that the Commissioner should not rule on novel questions of constitutional law; and that the petition is untimely.

I will initially address respondents' assertions regarding standing. Petitioner does not allege that it is an incorporated entity, and does not rebut respondents' contention that it is unincorporated. Gloria T. Coleman verified both petitions as "petitioner on behalf of CEPAA," and Ms. Coleman is identified in the petitions as the Chairperson of the Civil Rights and Political Action Committee of CEPAA. An unincorporated association, such as this group, lacks standing to maintain an appeal to the Commissioner (Appeal of Beilman, 38 Ed Dept Rep 644, Decision No. 14,109; Appeal of Lancaster Parent Alliance, 38 id. 356, Decision No. 14,053; Appeal of Parent-Student Coalition of Fallsburg, 37 id. 522, Decision No. 13,917) or to bring an application pursuant to Education Law "306 to remove a school officer (Application of Ad Hoc Committee Greenburgh Eleven Union Free School District, 32 Ed Dept Rep 215, Decision No. 12,811). An individual representative of an unincorporated association does not have standing to maintain an appeal pursuant to Education Law "310 (Appeal of The Plaza School Playground Committee, 35 Ed Dept Rep 83, Decision No. 13,473; Appeal of Mezzapelle, 33 id. 490, Decision No. 13,124). This principle has previously been applied specifically to CEPAA and its representatives (Appeal of Coalition for the Empowerment of People of African Ancestry, 36 Ed Dept Rep 425, Decision No. 13,767; Appeal of Ben-Reuben, 33 id. 299, Decision No. 13,055). As petitioner has no standing to bring an application under Education Law "306 or appeal under Education Law "310, the petitions must be dismissed.

In view of this disposition, I need not address the other issues raised by the parties. However, I also note that the claims in CEPAA I are moot. Although the parties dispute whether there was any improper assignment of teachers as alleged in the petition, respondents produced uncontroverted documentary evidence with their answer to show that, as of the date of the answer, all of the teachers specified in the petition had certifications appropriate to their assignments. Additionally, I take notice of the fact that respondents Prattella and Reilly no longer occupy the positions of Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent. Thus, petitioner's request for their removal is also moot.