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Decision No. 14,233

Appeal of MAUREEN and JAMES LUCAS, on behalf of their son RYAN, from action of the Board of Education of the Seaford Union Free School District regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 14,233

(October 25, 1999)

Berkman, Henoch, Peterson & Peddy, P.C., attorneys for petitioners, Roslyn Z. Roth, Esq., of counsel

Ingerman Smith, L.L.P., attorneys for respondent, Christopher Venator, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners challenge the disciplinary measures imposed on their son, Ryan, by the Board of Education of the Seaford Union Free School District ("respondent"). The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 1998-99 school year Ryan was a 17-year old senior in respondent’s high school. On April 22, 1999 he was involved in an incident in which a BB gun was discharged in respondent’s parking lot, striking another student. Ryan was suspended for five days beginning on April 22, 1999. A superintendent's hearing was held on April 29, 1999. The superintendent issued his decision on that same date, finding Ryan guilty of possessing and discharging a BB gun while on school property, striking another student. The superintendent suspended Ryan from instruction and school activities for the duration of the school year, including the senior prom and graduation ceremony. Because Ryan was not within the ages of compulsory school attendance, he was not provided with alternative instruction. However, Ryan was allowed to complete his coursework and examinations so that he would have the opportunity to graduate on time. Petitioners appealed the superintendent's decision to respondent, which upheld the suspension. This appeal ensued. Petitioners’ request for interim relief pending a determination on the merits was denied on June 11, 1999.

Petitioners do not dispute respondent's determination of guilt. However, petitioners argue that the penalty imposed is excessive and seek an order reinstating Ryan, at a minimum, to alternative instruction and to permit him to attend the prom and graduation ceremony. Petitioners submit that the superintendent failed to consider all of the information relevant to Ryan’s behavior and conduct prior to imposing the penalty. Petitioners argue that the penalty does not take into account Ryan’s previous unblemished record in school or his exceptional performance in extracurricular activities. Petitioners also claim that respondent impermissibly banished Ryan from the high school forever and that the penalty amounts to a permanent suspension. Petitioners further argue that respondent could not preclude Ryan from attending graduation absent a finding that his presence would disrupt the ceremony. In addition, petitioners argue that the penalty imposes an academic sanction for misconduct unrelated to academic achievement.

Respondent submits that this matter is moot in that the academic school year has concluded and the prom and graduation ceremony have already been held. Respondent further argues that the penalty imposed is not excessive and is clearly supported by the severity of the conduct in question. Finally, respondent submits that petitioners’ assertion that the district was obligated to provide alternative instruction to Ryan is contrary to law because he is not within the ages of compulsory school attendance.

The appeal must be dismissed because it is moot. The Commissioner of Education will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Morenus, 39 Ed Dept Rep ___, Decision No. 14,165; Appeal of June D., 38 id. 596, Decision No. 14,101; Appeal of McConnon, 37 id. 691, Decision No. 13,959). Petitioners appeal the penalty imposed, not the finding of guilt. Thus, the only relief that could be granted has already been denied with my rejection of petitioners' request for interim relief on June 11, 1999. As a practical matter, Ryan has already served his suspension, the academic year has concluded and the prom and graduation ceremony have been held. Thus any issue with respect to the appropriateness of the penalty is academic, and the appeal is moot (Appeal of Kainz, 38 Ed Dept Rep 339, Decision No. 14,049; Appeal of Oyibo, 37 id. 356, Decision No. 13,878; Appeal of Laudin, 37 id. 3, Decision No. 13,789).

Finally, I note that the record does not support petitioners’ claim that respondent impermissibly banished Ryan from the high school forever. The transcript of the superintendent’s hearing, which was attached as an exhibit to the petition, indicates that if Ryan failed to graduate in June of 1999, he would be permitted to attend summer school or return to school the following September. Therefore, I conclude that respondent did not permanently suspend or banish Ryan from school grounds (Appeal of McNamara, 37 Ed Dept Rep 326, Decision No. 13,871).

In light of the forgoing disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.