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Decision No. 14,848

Appeal of LIBBY and DANIEL C. SPERDUTI, on behalf of their son NICHOLAS, from action of the Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District regarding an athletic suspension.



(March 17, 2003) 

Ronald L. Van Nostrand, Esq., attorney for petitioners 

Matthew R. Fletcher, Esq., attorney for respondent


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the decision of the Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District ("respondent") to suspend their son Nicholas from its varsity football team.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Nicholas attended twelfth grade at respondent"s high school during the 2001-2002 school year and was a member of the high school varsity football team.  The district"s athletic handbook provides in pertinent part:

Athletes are to attend ALL practices and ALL contests.  NO ONE is excused from practices or contests without the prior permission of his or her coach.  Athletes are to inform their coach during the first two days of practice if they have a commitment that will affect their attendance at practices or contests during that season.  Any unexcused absences may result in the athlete being disciplined.

     Nicholas was absent from school and did not attend football practice on November 16, 2001.  He also did not attend the varsity football team"s final game on November 17, 2001.  Petitioners assert that when their son returned to school on Monday, November 19, 2001, he provided a doctor"s excuse to the school nurse indicating that he was ill on Friday, November 16, 2001.  Respondent disputes this assertion.  At a meeting held on November 28, 2001, the coach dismissed Nicholas from the varsity football team based upon his unexcused failure to attend both practice on November 16, 2001 and the game on November 17, 2001.  On November 29, 2001, Nicholas delivered a doctor"s excuse concerning his absence from the November 17, 2001 football game.

     Thereafter, petitioners met with respondent"s high school principal and, by letter dated January 8, 2002, the principal notified petitioners that he declined to rescind the coach"s decision to dismiss Nicholas from the varsity football team.  By letter dated January 21, 2002, petitioners appealed to respondent.  By letter dated February 5, 2002, respondent"s superintendent notified petitioners that respondent had considered their appeal on February 4 and affirmed the coach"s decision to dismiss Nicholas from the football team.  Petitioners commenced this appeal on July 16, 2002.

     Petitioners seek an order overruling respondent"s decision and directing respondent to confer a varsity athletic letter and awards upon Nicholas.  Petitioners contend that respondent did not provide Nicholas with appropriate due process.  Petitioners also contend that respondent"s decision constituted an abuse of discretion and that Nicholas" dismissal from the football team is unwarranted.  Respondent maintains that the appeal is untimely, and that its February 5, 2002 decision is in all respects proper.

     The appeal must be dismissed as untimely.  An appeal to the Commissioner must be commenced within 30 days from the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of, unless excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16).  Petitioners were notified of respondent"s decision by letter dated February 5, 2002.  The petition initiating this appeal was not served until July 16, 2002 " more than five months later.

Petitioners request that I excuse their delay claiming they were unaware of their right to appeal to the Commissioner or the 30-day time limit.  Petitioners further claim that respondent contributed to their delay because respondent"s February 5, 2002 letter included the statement, "[p]lease be advised that the matter concludes at the board level."  Except in unusual circumstances, ignorance of the appeal process is not a sufficient basis to excuse a delay in commencing an appeal (Appeal of D.C., 41 Ed Dept Rep ___, Decision No. 14,684; Application of T.D., 41 id. ___, Decision No. 14,646).  I do not find that respondent"s statement precluded petitioners from exercising their right to appeal in a timely manner.  Therefore, I find no unusual circumstances sufficient to excuse the delay, and the appeal is untimely.  In light of this disposition, I need not address the merits of the appeal.