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Decision No. 14,348

Appeal of JOHN A. WIERZCHOWSKI, on behalf of DANIEL J. A. WIERZCHOWSKI, from action of the Board of Education of the General Brown Central School District regarding the denial of participation in interscholastic sports.

Decision No. 14,348

(April 25, 2000)

Schwerzmann & Wise, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Keith B. Caughlin, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals his son’s dismissal from the high school varsity football team. The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 1998-99 school year, petitioner’s son, Daniel, was a member of the General Brown High School varsity football team. The team was scheduled to play a football game on the evening of October 16, 1998. Approximately one week before the game, Daniel informed Steven Fisher, the varsity football coach, that he was scheduled to attend a Department of Environmental Conservation trapper’s course on October 16, and would therefore need to miss the game. The coach informed Daniel that he would have to choose between the football team and the trapping class. The day before the game, petitioner contacted Coach Fisher to request that Daniel be permitted to leave the game at half time. Coach Fisher rejected petitioner’s request and informed petitioner that Daniel would be removed from the team if he missed the game. Despite these warnings, Daniel chose to attend the trapper’s course instead of the football game.

The following week, David A. Ramie, the district’s interim athletic director, notified petitioner that his son had been removed from the football team for violating "Article 6 of the General Brown Athletic Training Pledge as well as the General Brown Varsity Football Contract." In an affidavit, Mr. Ramie explains that this letter incorrectly referred to the district’s Athletes Pledge and its Football Training Pledge as the "General Brown Athletic Training Pledge" and the "General Brown Varsity Football Contract", respectively. Petitioner appealed this decision, first to the district’s athletic committee, then to the principal, superintendent, and finally to the board of education ("respondent") on November 23, 1998. By letter dated January 18, 1999, respondent’s superintendent informed petitioner that respondent had voted to dismiss his appeal. This appeal ensued.

Petitioner contends that his son was improperly removed from the football team. Although the petition is unclear, petitioner contends, among other things, that the Athletes Pledge is vague and does not authorize the penalty of removal from the team for missing a game. Petitioner also contends that the district failed to follow various procedural requirements set forth in the Athletes Pledge in removing Daniel from the team. For relief, petitioner requests that I reverse respondent’s decision and "clear and remove All (sic) unwarranted penalties from [his son]." Petitioner also requests, among other things, that I order respondent to revise the district’s Athletes Pledge and Football Training Pledge, and conduct a "full investigation" of respondent’s sports discipline and attendance policies.

Respondent denies any wrongdoing and alleges that the appeal is moot to the extent that petitioner seeks his son’s reinstatement to the football team. Respondent also alleges, among other things, that I lack the authority to order some of the relief sought by petitioner and that there is no adverse information in Daniel’s educational or disciplinary file to expunge.

It is well established that 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 exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Studley, 38 Ed Dept Rep 258, Decision No. 14,028; Appeal of Lascala, 38 Ed Dept Rep 16, Decision No. 13,974). Because the 1998-99 football season is over, the remedy of reinstatement to the football team is unavailable. Accordingly, the appeal is moot to the extent that petitioner seeks his son’s reinstatement to the team. In addition, there are no adverse references in Daniel’s records pertaining to his removal from the team, and therefore, nothing to expunge. Because there is no meaningful relief available to petitioner the appeal must be dismissed as moot.

Even if the appeal were not dismissed on procedural grounds, I would dismiss it on the merits. In an appeal to the Commissioner, the petitioner has the burden of establishing the facts alleged and entitlement to the relief sought (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of Federico, 38 Ed Dept Rep 351, Decision No. 14,052). Petitioner has failed to establish that his son’s removal from the team was improper. Petitioner correctly points out that neither respondent’s Athletes Pledge nor the Football Training Pledge specifies that missing a game will result in an athlete’s removal from the team. However, neither document purports to provide team members with a comprehensive list of behaviors that may subject an athlete to disciplinary action.

Participation on an interscholastic sport team is a privilege that requires dedication and commitment. Students who agree to participate in such activities may be forced on occasion to make difficult choices between their team obligations and other outside interests. The record reflects that Daniel was warned that he risked removal from the team if chose to attend the trapper class instead of the football game. I cannot conclude that the coach’s decision to remove Daniel from the team under these circumstances was an abuse of discretion (see, Appeal of Mungioli and Anesini, 21 Ed Dept Rep 364, Decision No. 10,715).

Nor is there any evidence that petitioner was denied due process or that the appeal process was otherwise flawed. The imposition of discipline pertaining to participation in athletics must meet minimal standards of administrative due process, but a full hearing pursuant to Education Law "3214(3) is not required (Appeal of Latterell, 35 Ed Dept Rep 487, Decision No. 13,608). The record reflects that petitioner and his son were afforded three separate opportunities to discuss this matter with district representatives. I find that the procedures employed by the district provided petitioner ample opportunity to challenge his son’s removal from the football team and were sufficient to satisfy due process standards.

Finally, an appeal to the Commissioner of Education is appellate in nature and does not provide for investigations (Appeal of B.B., 38 Ed Dept Rep 666, Decision No. 14,113; Appeal of DiStefano, 36 Ed Dept Rep 217, Decision No. 13,705). In any event, petitioner has failed to establish facts sufficient to warrant an investigation. Accordingly, the appeal must be dismissed.

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