Skip to main content

Decision No. 14,522

Appeal of N.C. from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 14,522

(December 21, 2000)

The Legal Aid Society, attorneys for petitioner, E. Niki Warin and Nancy Ginsburg, Esqs., of counsel

Michael D. Hess, Corporation Counsel, attorney for respondent, Lisa A. Weiss, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals a decision by the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York ("respondent") to suspend him from Norman Thomas High School ("Norman Thomas"). The appeal must be dismissed.

On October 7, 1999, petitioner was stopped and searched in a breezeway on school grounds by a police officer assigned to the Midtown South precinct. As a result of the search, which consisted of the officer asking petitioner to empty his pockets, the officer issued petitioner a summons charging him with possession of marijuana, and the officer brought the student to the dean of students at Norman Thomas. Petitioner admitted to the dean that he had marijuana in his pocket.

On October 14, 1999, petitioner was suspended from Norman Thomas, on a charge of possession of marijuana. A superintendent's hearing was held on October 28, 1999. The superintendent upheld the suspension, and ordered that petitioner be transferred to an offsite educational center. The superintendent further directed that the record of the suspension would be expunged upon petitioner's graduation or departure from the New York City school system, provided that there were no additional incidents of misbehavior that resulted in a suspension. A written decision was issued on February 1, 2000. Petitioner appealed the decision to the Chancellor, who upheld the suspension in a decision dated May 9, 2000.

Petitioner further appealed to respondent, who sustained the suspension in a decision dated July 11, 2000. This appeal ensued. In the interim, on March 7, 2000, petitioner was discharged from the offsite educational center with a graduation equivalency diploma ("GED"), and the notation of the suspension was expunged from his record.

Petitioner contends that the search by the police officer on school grounds was unconstitutional, and that the physical evidence and statements obtained as a result of the search should be suppressed. Petitioner additionally contends that, without the physical evidence and statements, there was insufficient evidence presented at the hearing to sustain the suspension. Petitioner requests that I reverse respondent's decision upholding the suspension, suppress the evidence that was allegedly obtained in violation of petitioner's constitutional rights, and expunge the suspension from petitioner's record.

Respondent asserts that the search was proper in all respects, and that there is no basis to suppress the evidence at the suspension hearing. Respondent further contends that this appeal is moot, because petitioner has already been discharged from the offsite educational center with a GED and the notation of the suspension has already been expunged from his record.

I agree that this appeal is moot and must be dismissed. The Commissioner of Education only decides 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 Clouston, 39 Ed Dept Rep 656, Decision No. 14,343; Appeal of Debbie L., 39 id. 505, Decision No. 14,294; Appeal of K.M., 39 id. 301, Decision No. 14,243). Where it is impossible for the Commissioner to award any meaningful relief because the person whose rights are to be affected has moved from the district or graduated, the appeal will be dismissed (Appeal of Debbie L., supra; Appeal of Studley, 38 Ed Dept Rep 258, Decision No. 14,028; Appeal of Mangaroo, 37 id. 578, Decision No. 13,932). Petitioner argues that the appeal should not be dismissed because it raises issues of general interest and substantial public importance that are likely to recur. However, the record does not compel an exception to the mootness doctrine, as the determination of issues involving the constitutionality of a student search are necessarily fact-specific and can be addressed in a subsequent appeal that presents a live controversy.