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Decision No. 14,226

Appeal of JOSEPH F., on behalf of KATHERINE F., from action of the Board of Education of the Cornwall Central School District regarding a student suspension.

Decision No. 14,226

(October 13, 1999)

Gurda, Gurda & Smith, attorneys for petitioner, Alex Smith, Esq., of counsel

Timothy J. Ahearn, Esq., attorney for respondent


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the suspension of his daughter by the Board of Education of the Cornwall Central School District ("respondent"). The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner’s daughter Katherine admits that on April 26, 1999, she telephoned a bomb threat to Cornwall Central High School. The High School was evacuated and searched by police. No bombs were found and no one was injured. Following a superintendent’s hearing held in accordance with Education Law "3214(3)(c), the superintendent on May 21 found Katherine guilty of the charge of calling in a bomb threat, and suspended her from school from April 30, 1999 through September 2000. Respondent affirmed the superintendent’s determination on July 7, 1999, adding that petitioner could request that respondent review its decision in January 2000 if Katherine works with her tutors conscientiously.

Petitioner contends that the penalty imposed upon his daughter is excessive. He asserts that Katherine had never before been disciplined for violent behavior. In addition, he states that she was cooperative and admitted her culpability, and had not intended to injure anyone. He asserts that Katherine called in the bomb threat at the request of another student so that school would be cancelled for the day. Respondent contends that the penalty is not excessive.

A decision to suspend a student from school pursuant to Education Law "3214 must be based on competent and substantial evidence that the student participated in the objectionable conduct (Appeal of Cynthia and Robert W., 37 Ed Dept Rep 437, Decision No. 13,899; Appeal of Bowen, 35 id. 136, Decision No. 13,491). Furthermore, the sanction imposed must be proportionate to the severity of the offenses involved (Appeal of Hyde, 38 Ed Dept Rep 719, Decision No. 14,125; Appeal of B.B., 38 id. 666, Decision No. 14,113). The test to be applied in reviewing a penalty is whether it is so excessive as to warrant substitution of the Commissioner's judgment for that of the board of education (Appeal of B.B., supra; Appeal of Forestiero, 34 id. 592, Decision No. 13,419).

In this case, Katherine admitted that she telephoned a bomb threat to the High School. Not only did she make the call, but her statement to the police reveals that she first tried to call from a local restaurant, and when that did not work, she placed a second call from a different location. Then, she went to school and watched as students were led out of the school. She thus had more than one opportunity to contemplate the seriousness of her actions and correct her mistake, yet failed to do so. Katherine’s actions must also be viewed in context. She made this bomb threat on April 26, 1999, only six days after the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where bombs were also found. Petitioner accuses respondent of overreacting in light of the Columbine incident. However, upon the record before me, I find no basis for determining that respondent acted arbitrarily, unfairly or excessively in finding petitioner guilty of the offense charged and imposing a penalty of suspension from school and school activities for the remainder of 1998-1999 school year and the following school year. There can be no greater concern than the safety of our school children. Students must learn that such "pranks" will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Finally, I note that respondent has indicated that it will consider reviewing its decision in January 2000 if Katherine works conscientiously with her tutors during the summer and fall semester. Nothing in this decision should be read as precluding such review in the event respondent elects to do so.