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Decision No. 14,831

Appeal of BETSY COMBIER from action of the Board of Education of Community School District 3, Superintendent Patricia Romandetto, and D.J. Sheppard relating to the investigation of petitioner as PTA president.



(January 21, 2003)


Michael D. Hess, Esq., Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, attorney for respondents, Paul Kotlyar, Esq. of Counsel


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the decision of the parent-teacher association of Middle School 54 ("PTA") to convene a review committee to investigate petitioner"s actions as PTA president.  The appeal must be dismissed.

At the time she commenced this appeal, petitioner was the president of the PTA.  On June 5, 2001, petitioner filed a grievance with the district superintendent pursuant to Chancellor"s regulation A-660 against both the middle school principal and arts coordinator accusing them of various financial improprieties and of mistreating her.  Although the PTA did not formally sanction petitioner"s grievance, petitioner signed the grievance as "MS 54 PTA President".  By letter dated June 25, 2001, the president of Community School Board 3 rejected petitioner"s grievance on the grounds that it was untimely and that the community school board had no authority over personnel matters.

That same day, the PTA voted at a special meeting to assemble a review committee pursuant to "5.6 of its bylaws to investigate petitioner"s performance as PTA president.  From the minutes, it appears that the vote was prompted, in part, by concern that petitioner had damaged her relationship with the principal by filing a grievance against him, and had potentially compromised her ability to work with him in the future.

     Pursuant to "5.6 of the PTA bylaws, after the general membership votes to appoint a review committee to investigate a board member, the committee is required to conduct an investigation and present its findings and recommendation during a general membership meeting within 60 days of the committee"s establishment.  The general membership is then required to vote to either remove or absolve the officer.

The committee apparently met on June 27, 2001 and again on July 30, 2001, but voted to adjourn until the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year because the general membership does not meet during July or August.  The committee did not reconvene until October 16, 2001, the delay due in part to the events of September 11, 2001.  Petitioner commenced the instant appeal on September 25, 2001 seeking to stay the committee"s investigation.  Petitioner"s request for interim relief was denied on October 31, 2001.

Subsequent to the initiation of her appeal, at a special PTA meeting held on November 5, 2001, the review committee presented the results of its investigation to the PTA membership and recommended that petitioner be removed as PTA president.  The review committee noted, among other things, that petitioner"s relationships with other board members had become increasingly adversarial and that two members had resigned from the executive board during the school year, citing difficulty working with petitioner.  The committee also noted that petitioner"s poor relationship with the principal had resulted in an "absence of communication" between the two that had rendered the PTA "totally ineffective."  The minutes from the meeting reflect that 53 members voted in favor and 5 against petitioner"s removal.

Although the petition is not concise, it appears that the essence of petitioner"s claim is that the review committee investigation was improperly instituted as "punishment" for petitioner"s grievance against the middle school principal and arts coordinator in violation of Chancellor"s regulation A-660, which gives parent association members the right to file a grievance without fear of penalty or reprisal.  For relief, petitioner requests that I prohibit the review committee from investigating her and order the principal and arts coordinator to stop harassing her.  Petitioner also requests that I order respondents to provide certain financial information she requested in her grievance against the principal and arts coordinator.

Respondents allege, among other things, that petitioner has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by pursuing the grievance procedure established by Chancellor"s regulation A-660, that the appeal is moot, and that the review committee was properly convened in accordance with the PTA"s bylaws.

Preliminarily, I note that subsequent to the service of her petition, petitioner submitted a number of additional pleadings, including three "addendums" to the petition and an affidavit.  The bulk of the information in these pleadings either improperly buttresses claims raised in the petition, is irrelevant, or improperly raises new claims that should have been included in the petition.  Accordingly, I will not consider these additional submissions as part of the record before me.

The appeal must be dismissed, in part, as moot.  It is well settled that the Commissioner will only decide 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 S.T., 41 Ed Dept Rep ___, Decision No. 14,709; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 41 id. ___, Decision No. 14,680).  Petitioner"s request for interim relief staying the review committee"s investigation was denied on October 31, 2001.  Subsequently, the review committee completed its investigation and recommended at a November 5, 2001 special meeting that petitioner be removed from office.  Because the review committee has completed its investigation, the relief requested by petitioner is no longer available.   Accordingly, the appeal is moot to the extent that petitioner seeks to prohibit the review committee from investigating her.

The appeal must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  Chancellor"s regulation A-660, governing parent associations, establishes a grievance mechanism applicable to, among other things, "disputes within or against" a parent association, and to "complaints concerning an action or inaction by a school employee relating to a [parent association]""  Further, a grievance must be based on violation of the parent association"s bylaws, or applicable law, policy or regulation (Chancellor"s regulation A-660[IV][B][3]).  Petitioner"s claim that the review committee was convened in retaliation for her grievance against the principal and arts coordinator in violation of Chancellor"s regulation A-660 is clearly subject to the Chancellor"s grievance mechanism.  Pursuant to that regulation, a grievance must be filed initially with the community school board within 30 days of the event complained of or within 30 days after the event is discovered (Chancellor"s regulation A-660 IV[B][6]).  The decision of the community school board can be appealed first to the Chancellor, and finally to the Central Board. (Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2002 made substantial changes to Article 52-A of the Education Law pertaining to the governance of the City School District of the City of New York.  Because the events complained of occurred before the passage of this legislation, I need not address the impact of those changes on Chancellor"s regulation A-660).

Petitioner was obligated to pursue this administrative remedy before commencing this appeal.  Respondent alleges that petitioner did not, in fact, pursue this remedy. Petitioner has the burden of establishing all the facts upon which she seeks relief (8 NYCRR "275.10; Appeal of Finkel, 41 Ed Dept Rep    , Decision No. 14,619; Appeal of Lilly, 39 id. 601, Decision No. 14,324).  Although petitioner claims she exhausted this remedy, she has failed to supply sufficient proof to support her contention.  Accordingly, I find that the petition must be dismissed because petitioner failed to exhaust her administrative remedies (Appeal of the LaSalle Institute, 40 Ed Dept Rep 532, Decision No. 14,548; Appeal of Andela, 38 id. 249, Decision No. 14,026).

     Further, an appeal to the Commissioner under Education Law "310 is appellate in nature and does not provide for investigations (Appeal of Sherwood, 39 Ed Dept Rep 791, Decision No. 14,382; Appeal of Schonfeld, 38 id. 306, Decision No. 14,040).  Although petitioner does not explicitly request an investigation, her request for disclosure of information related to her complaints of financial improprieties is, in essence, a request for an investigation of school officials, relief that is not available in the context of a "310 appeal.

I have examined petitioner"s remaining contentions and find them without merit.