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Decision No. 14,513

Appeal of KAREN A. BOIKO, on behalf of ALEXANDER J. BOIKO, from action of the Board of Education of the Shenendehowa Central School District regarding student honors.

Decision No. 14,513

(December 21, 2000)

McCary & Huff, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Kathryn McCary, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the refusal of the Board of Education of the Shenendehowa Central School District ("respondent") to award her son, Alexander, an honors designation for an American Studies course he took during the 1999-2000 school year. The appeal must be dismissed.

The basic American Studies curriculum offered in respondent’s high school is not at the honors level. To be eligible for honors credit in the course, a student must: 1) declare his or her intention to work toward the honors designation before the end of the first marking period; 2) achieve an overall average grade of at least 90 on the regular classwork; and 3) complete all of the enrichment work required at an honors quality level. These requirements are published in respondent’s Program of Studies, a publication distributed to all students.

In October 1999, petitioner attended respondent’s open house to learn about the course work and expectations for the school year. Petitioner had a conversation with Mr. Keeley, one of the teachers of the course at issue in this appeal, regarding the honors requirements for the course. The parties disagree over Mr. Keeley’s explanation of the requirements. Petitioner claims that assurances were made by Mr. Keeley that he had the discretion to waive the overall average grade of 90 requirement. Respondent and Mr. Keeley dispute petitioner’s claim and state that Keeley informed petitioner that, although a student needed to achieve an overall grade of 90 on his or her regular classwork to earn an honors designation for the course, the student didn't necessarily need to achieve a 90 in each quarter. Likewise, while all enrichment work needed to be performed at an acceptable level, a student didn't necessarily need to achieve a 90 on such work to earn the honors designation.

In May of 2000, petitioner attended a parent function at the school and had a conversation with Mr. Keeley regarding Alexander’s academic performance in the course. Based on Alexander’s performance up to that point in the fourth quarter, Mr. Keeley notified petitioner that Alexander would probably not earn honors credit for the course.

On May 26, 2000, petitioner met with Mr. Keeley and Mr. Pintuff, the Social Studies Department Chair, to discuss the matter. Mr. Pintuff stated that a teacher did not have the discretion to waive the requirements to obtain honors credit and Mr. Keeley indicated that petitioner must have misunderstood his explanation of the honors requirements for the course.

On June 7, 2000, petitioner met with respondent’s superintendent to ask that he grant Alexander honors credit for the course. The superintendent referred her to the high school principal who spoke to petitioner and Mr. Keeley about the matter. Based on petitioner’s alleged misunderstanding, the principal determined that if Alexander obtained an overall average of at least 89, he could be considered for honors credit. Before assigning Alexander’s final grade in the course, his teachers reviewed his work from earlier quarters and increased his first and third quarter grades. Alexander’s final overall average grade for the regular classwork was 88, rendering him ineligible for the honors designation, even under the relaxed standard set by the principal.

On July 11, 2000, petitioner asked respondent to grant Alexander an honors designation in the course. On August 10, 2000, respondent’s superintendent sent petitioner a letter informing her that respondent met and had denied her request. This appeal ensued.

Petitioner argues that Alexander is entitled to the honors designation in the course because he undertook a more difficult workload with the expectation of receiving the honors designation. She does not challenge the grade Alexander received in the course, but rather, relies exclusively on the alleged representations made by Mr. Keeley that he could waive the overall average grade of 90 requirement for purposes of awarding the honors designation. Petitioner seeks an order compelling respondent to place an honors designation on Alexander’s high school transcript for the course.

Respondent submits that the appeal is untimely. Respondent further argues that Alexander did not meet the eligibility criteria to obtain the honors designation and that its action was not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.

I will first address respondent’s procedural defense. An appeal to the Commissioner pursuant to Education Law "310 must be commenced within 30 days of the action complained of, unless excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16). There is a dispute as to whether the petition was served on September 11, 2000 or September 12, 2000. Respondent notified petitioner of its determination by mail in a letter dated August 10, 2000. There is no evidence in the record as to when the letter was actually received by petitioner. Petitioner verifies in her reply that she left for vacation on August 11, 2000, and did not return until August 27, 2000. Based on the circumstances before me, I find the appeal timely.

The appeal must be dismissed on the merits. Recognition for academic achievement is a local matter for which a board of education may impose reasonable standards (Appeal of Lee, 39 Ed Dept Rep 572, Decision No. 14,315; Appeal of S.P., 37 id. 640, Decision No. 13,946; Appeal of Kuttner, 32 id. 39, Decision No. 12,749). In an appeal to the Commissioner, petitioner bears the burden of establishing all of the facts upon which she seeks relief (8 NYCRR "275.10; Appeal of Taylor, 39 Ed Dept Rep 368, Decision No. 14,261; Appeal of Trombley, 39 id. 115, Decision No. 14,189) and to demonstrate a clear legal right to the relief requested (Appeal of Taylor, supra; Appeal of Logan, 38 Ed Dept Rep 694, Decision No. 14,120).

Based on the record before me, I cannot find, and petitioner has failed to prove, that respondent’s criteria for eligibility to receive the honors designation for the course are unreasonable. Nor has she proven that respondent applied the criteria arbitrarily or capriciously to Alexander. As stated above, all of the requirements to obtain the honors designation are stated clearly in respondent’s Program of Studies that is distributed to all students. Although petitioner maintains that Mr. Keeley indicated that he had the discretion to waive this requirement, respondent denies that any such representation was made, and there is no evidence that such waiver has ever been actually granted to any student within respondent's district. As such, I find that petitioner has failed to carry her burden of proving that respondent acted improperly.