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Decision No. 14,317

Appeal of CONNIE SHRAMEK, on behalf of her son, NIKKOLAS SHRAMEK, from action of the Chenango Valley Central School District regarding an athletic suspension.

Decision No. 14,317

(March 2, 2000)

Hogan & Sarzynski, LLP, attorneys for petitioners, Michael G. Surowka, Esq., of counsel

Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Leslie Prechtl Guy, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the decision of the Chenango Valley Central School District ("respondent") to impose an athletic suspension on her son, Nikkolas. The appeal must be dismissed.

In August 1998, Nikkolas was a member of respondent’s high school golf team. During the first week of golf practice, the golf coach discovered that Nikkolas had a tin of chewing tobacco in his pocket. Possession of tobacco is a violation of respondent’s athletic training policy, which provides, in pertinent part:

Athletes at Chenango Valley will neither use nor possess alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs or tobacco. Violations of this rule will result in immediate suspension from competitive participation. Dismissal may follow after a discussion by the coach, the Athletic Director and the High School Principal.

The day after the tobacco was found, petitioner and Nikkolas met with respondent’s athletic director and golf coach. At that meeting, Nikkolas did not deny that he had chewing tobacco in his possession at practice. The athletic director advised petitioner that as a result, Nikkolas would be suspended from competition for the remainder of the fall 1998 season.

Thereafter, petitioner met with the high school principal, who after discussing the matter with the athletic director, upheld the suspension. The superintendent also declined to overturn the suspension. This appeal ensued. On September 18, 1998, petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied.

Petitioner claims that the board of education never adopted the athletic training policy. She also contends that the policy does not indicate who determines a violation or who imposes discipline. Additionally, she alleges that the athletic director and coach did not have the authority to impose sanctions. She further maintains that the policy provides no appeal mechanism.

Petitioner asserts that the district’s "Student Tobacco Policy" and "School Conduct and Discipline Policy" are much less severe than the athletic policy for mere possession of tobacco. Under the Student Tobacco Policy, students are prohibited from having cigarettes or other tobacco products (including chewing tobacco) in school or on school grounds but the possession of chewing tobacco is not specifically deemed to be a violation. Similarly, petitioner contends the School Conduct and Discipline Policy only prohibits the use, not possession, of tobacco. Therefore, she claims the Student Tobacco Policy and School Conduct and Discipline Policy conflict with the athletic training policy.

Respondent maintains that the board of education adopted the athletic training policy and designated the coach, athletic director and principal as decision makers. Respondent further contends that there is no conflict between the athletic training policy and other district policies. Respondent maintains that the athletic training policy specifically applies to all student athletes, and supercedes portions of the Student Conduct and Discipline Policy. Respondent further claims that petitioner and her son were afforded sufficient due process.

The appeal must be dismissed as moot. The Commissioner of Education will only consider 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 Studley, 38 Ed Dept Rep 258, Decision No. 14,028; Appeal of Lascala, 38 id. 16, Decision No. 13,974; Appeal of Schuler, 37 id. 512, Decision No. 13,915). This is especially true when petitioner has sought interim relief as to all or most of his claim, and that relief has been denied (see, e.g., Appeal of Studley, supra; Appeal of Lascala, supra; Appeal of McConnon, 37 Ed Dept Rep 691, Decision No. 13,959). In this matter, petitioner requests that her son be allowed to play in golf matches for the fall 1998 season. Petitioner's stay request was denied, and the 1998 golf season has ended, leaving no possibility of any meaningful relief. Thus, this proceeding is moot (Appeal of Studley, supra; Appeal of Wright, 38 Ed Dept Rep 756, Decision No. 14,134).

Even were this appeal not moot, I would still dismiss it on the merits. 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, Decision No. 14,058) and the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested (Appeal of Catherine B., 37 Ed Dept Rep 34, Decision No. 13,797). 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, Decision No. 13,899; Appeal of Catherine B., supra).

Upon review, I do not find the district’s athletic training policy, or respondent’s enforcement of that policy against Nikkolas to be illegal or an abuse of discretion. Contrary to petitioner’s contention, the record reflects that the board properly adopted the athletic training policy in June 1995 and the policy delegates the authority to discipline to the coach, athletic director and principal. In addition, the athletic training policy clearly apprised Nikkolas that if he possessed tobacco he would be suspended from competition for the remainder of the season. The record also reflects that Nikkolas and petitioner both signed the policy, acknowledging they had read and understood it, on four separate occasions. Finally, I find no merit to petitioner’s argument that the athletic policy conflicts with the district’s other policies, particularly since the athletic training policy states that student athletes are "held to a higher standard of behavior".