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Decision No. 14,605

Appeal of JOHN and ANN MARTIN from action of the Board of Education of the Johnson City Central School District regarding selection of class valedictorian.

Decision No. 14,605

(July 20, 2001)

O"Connor, Gacioch, Pope & Tait, LLP, attorneys for petitioners, Andrea B. Settanni, Esq., of counsel

Hogan & Sarzynski, LLP, attorneys for respondent Johnson City Central School District, Michael G. Surowka, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner John Martin and his daughter Ann challenge a determination by the Board of Education of the Johnson City Central School District ("district") to appoint Alok Bhatt as valedictorian of the class of 2001. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner Ann Martin and Alok Bhatt were both extremely talented members of the class of 2001, both having grade point averages in excess of 100 under the district"s weighted grading system. It has been the district's policy to name the senior with the highest weighted grade point average at the end of the third quarter as class valedictorian.

At the end of the third quarter of the 2000-2001 school year, Ann Martin"s grade point average was calculated at 102.48, approximately 0.09 points higher than Alok Bhatt. At the time these calculations were completed, no public announcement was made, but high school principal Jeffrey Kisloski informed only the two students in question. Shortly thereafter, Alok Bhatt found an error in the grade assigned for his Advanced Placement Statistics course, and reported the same to district officials. When his correct grade was entered, Alok Bhatt"s grade point average was calculated at 102.57787, or approximately 0.09 points higher than Ann Martin"s average. Principal Kisloski then contacted both students and their families and apologized for the error in the first calculation.

Because these two fine students were so close in ranking, there had been informal discussions as early as fall 2000 by the principal with the students about the possibility of naming them as co-valedictorians, if their very close ranking continued through the year, and if both students and their families were amenable. However, after the final calculation of grades at the end of the third quarter was completed, no such consensus was reached, so the district determined to name Alok Bhatt as valedictorian, and Ann Martin as salutatorian. This determination was conveyed in a letter dated May 11, 2001 from the district"s attorney to petitioners" attorney.

This appeal was commenced on May 16, 2001. The petition requests an order staying the district from naming a valedictorian pending final determination of the appeal, and a determination that Ann Martin is entitled to be named co-valedictorian with Alok Bhatt. After obtaining copies of the records and calculations of grade point averages for both students, I denied interim relief on June 1, 2001.

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 exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Shramek, 39 Ed Dept Rep 577, Decision No. 14,317; Appeal of Studley, 38 id. 258, Decision No. 14,028; Appeal of Lascala, 38 id. 16, Decision No. 13,974). 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 Shramek, supra; Appeal of Studley, supra; Appeal of Lascala, supra). In this matter, petitioners have requested an order preventing the district from naming Alok Bhatt as sole valedictorian, but that announcement has been made and both students have graduated, leaving no possibility for meaningful relief.

Even if I were not dismissing on procedural grounds, I would do so on the merits. As all parties agree, matters involving honors conferred upon graduating students, including status as a valedictorian or salutatorian, are generally a matter of local concern for which a board of education may impose reasonable standards (see, e.g., Appeal of Sperry, 37 Ed Dept Rep 660, Decision No. 13,951; Appeal of Tenbus and Kraack, 35 id. 320, Decision No. 13,556; and cases cited therein). I am satisfied from the record before me that the district"s method of selecting a valedictorian is reasonable, and that it followed its policy in this particular case. I therefore find no basis to substitute my judgment in this matter.

I have considered petitioners" arguments that some sort of binding agreement had existed as to the appointment of co-valedictorians prior to the end of the third quarter, and that the principal"s discussions with these students based upon the erroneous calculation of Alok Bhatt"s average at the conclusion of the third quarter somehow was a binding determination on the part of the district. I find neither these arguments nor the parties" other arguments persuasive.