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Decision No. 14,431

Appeal of BEATRICE HUDGINS MIDDLETON, on behalf of SOLOMON HUGHES, from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York regarding its refusal to discipline various district employees.

Decision No. 14,431

(August 14, 2000)

Michael D. Hess, attorney for respondent, Laura H. Corvo, of counsel

CATE, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the refusal of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York ("respondent") to commence disciplinary action against a number of district employees. The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 1998-99 school year, petitioner’s son, Solomon, was a first grade student at Public School 20 in Community School District 25. On November 25, 1998, Solomon was suspended from school for five days and charged with possession of a multi-tooled instrument characterized as a "Category I weapon" as defined in Regulation of the Chancellor A-440. At the suspension hearing that followed, Solomon was found guilty of the charge. Petitioner appealed this decision to Community School Board 25. By decision dated January 8, 1999, Community School Board 25 upheld Solomon’s suspension. Petitioner then appealed to respondent. By decision dated March 24, 1999 respondent, citing procedural errors and its conclusion that the multi-tooled instrument Solomon allegedly possessed was essentially a nail clipper which did not constitute a Category I weapon, sustained petitioner’s appeal and ordered all records of the suspension expunged.

After receiving respondent’s decision, petitioner wrote to William C. Thompson, respondent’s president, charging that various school district officials had lied during the disciplinary hearing or the investigation that preceded it, and urging that respondent take action against them. By letter dated June 22, 1999, Donna E. Anderson, acting counsel for respondent, notified petitioner that no disciplinary action would be taken against the school officials involved in her son’s suspension. She explained that, although respondent determined that the nail clipper Solomon possessed was not a Category I weapon, it did have a blade attachment that could possibly be used as a knife, and therefore it was "reasonable to understand why school officials perceived it as such." This appeal ensued.

Petitioner contends that the "gross misconduct" of eleven district employees resulted in her son’s "unjustified suspension." For relief, petitioner requests the initiation of disciplinary charges against these individuals. In her reply, petitioner also claims that respondent was improperly granted an extension by telephone to file an answer.

Respondent asserts that the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction because petitioner neither challenges nor is aggrieved by any action or decision by respondent.

Preliminarily, I find both that petitioner has standing to bring this appeal and that the Commissioner has jurisdiction to entertain it. An appeal pursuant to Education Law "310 may be brought to challenge, among other things, any "official act or decision of any officer, school authorities, or meetings concerning any other matter under this chapter, or any other act pertaining to common schools" (Education Law "310[7]). I find that a school board’s refusal to bring disciplinary charges against a district employee falls within the broad scope of the Commissioner's review authority under Education Law "310. Further, because petitioner’s request that respondent pursue disciplinary charges against certain district employees stems directly from their involvement in the underlying disciplinary action against her son, I find that petitioner has standing to challenge respondent’s refusal to do so (see, Appeal of Taber, et al., 32 Ed Dept Rep 346, Decision No. 12,850).

However, the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join necessary parties. A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Houghton, 38 Ed Dept Rep 777, Decision No. 14,141; Appeal of Karliner, 36 id. 30, Decision No. 13,644). Petitioner requests the initiation of disciplinary charges against eleven district employees. Because the relief sought would adversely affect these employees, they are necessary parties and petitioner’s failure to join them requires dismissal of this appeal (Appeal of Houghton, supra).

The petition must also be dismissed on the merits. Petitioner is essentially seeking disciplinary action against a number of district employees. However, it is the board of education that has authority to take disciplinary action against a school district employee. Moreover, a board of education has broad discretion to determine whether disciplinary action against an employee is warranted (Appeal of Houghton, supra; Appeal of Rivenburg, 35 Ed Dept Rep 27, Decision No. 13,451), so long as it has a reasonable basis to support its conclusion. There is no evidence in the record that respondent acted unreasonably or arbitrarily, or abused its discretion in refusing to discipline the employees in question.

Finally, although granting respondent an extension by telephone to file an answer was technically improper, this procedural irregularity is not a basis for granting petitioner relief on the merits to which she is not otherwise entitled.