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Decision No. 14,892

Appeal of JOHN A. and MARGARET A. LYNCH, on behalf of their daughter REBECCA, from action of the Board of Education of the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns and Superintendent Howard Smith regarding class rank. 

Decision No. 14,892 

(June 19, 2003)  

Keane & Beane, P.C., attorneys for respondents, Michael D. Jones, Esq., of counsel 

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the refusal of the Board of Education of the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns ("respondent board") to change its class rank policy.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners" daughter transferred to respondents" Sleepy Hollow High School in September 2001 at the beginning of her junior year.  Previously, she had attended a private school.  School administrators converted her letter grades from the private school to numerical equivalents and entered them on her Sleepy Hollow cumulative record.

Respondents" policy on transfer students, as published in its Curriculum Guide, states that "all students enrolled for more than two years in the high school program are included in rank, but only grades earned at Sleepy Hollow High School are included in the average."  The student"s cumulative record also states that "[o]nly students who have attended Sleepy Hollow High School for four semesters prior to their senior year are included in the rank and only grades earned at Sleepy Hollow High School are averaged."

In July 2002, petitioners challenged this policy as unfair because their daughter would not receive a class rank and her GPA would not reflect the grades she received at private school.  By letter dated July 24, 2002, Superintendent Smith informed petitioners that the policy would not be changed. Petitioners then attended an August 1, 2002 meeting of respondent board and requested that they overturn the policy as discriminatory to transfer students.  Respondent board refused to do so at the meeting and confirmed its decision by letter dated August 5, 2002.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioners" request for interim relief was denied on September 9, 2002.

Petitioners contend that respondents" policy is unfair.  They claim that the failure to assign Rebecca a class rank and to include her private school grades in her cumulative GPA will hinder her efforts to attend "selective" colleges and obtain scholarships.  They ask me to annul respondents" policy, direct respondents to compute Rebecca"s class rank and GPA the same way they calculate them for non-transfer students and order them to provide Rebecca an official transcript bearing the properly calculated rank and GPA.

Respondents claim that class rank is a matter of local concern and that their policy is not arbitrary or capricious. Respondents also allege that the petition is untimely and that it should be dismissed for failure to join necessary parties.

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 the Commissioner excuses any delay for good cause shown (8 NYCRR "275.16).  Petitioners asked respondents to change the policy in July 2002 and were given a final determination by respondent board by letter dated August 5, 2002.  The petition was served on August 30, 2002, within the 30-day time limit. Thus, the petition is timely.

Respondents also allege that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join every member of the senior class of Sleepy Hollow High School as a necessary party.  A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of petitioners is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Diane P., 37 Ed Dept Rep 637, Decision No. 13,945; Appeal of Edward G., 36 id. 9, Decision No. 13,636).  The final GPAs and ranking for the class of 2003 had not been computed when this appeal was commenced and it was not possible to determine which class members would be adversely affected by the change in policy petitioners seek (See, Appeal of Armella and MacIntyre, 40 Ed Dept Rep 451, Decision No. 14,525).  Thus, I will not dismiss this appeal for failure to join necessary parties. 

     The appeal, however, must be dismissed on the merits. The determination of class rank is a decision for the local board of education that should not be altered unless it is arbitrary and irrational (Appeal of Armella and MacIntyre, supraAppeal of Perino, et al., 36 Ed Dept Rep 305, Decision No. 13,732; Appeals of Mulder, 35 id. 340, Decision No. 13,563).  As long as the local policy in question is not wholly without rational basis, the Commissioner will not impose a different policy (Appeal of Armella and MacIntyre, supra; Appeal of Tenbus and Kraack, 35 Ed Dept Rep 320, Decision No. 13,556). 

     Respondents" policy of excluding courses taken at other schools in calculating cumulative GPAs and ranking only students who have attended its schools for two years before their senior year is not arbitrary or capricious.  Respondents assert that they chose this policy to ensure that class ranking is based on students" performance in a "common academic experience."  They employ a weighted grading system and concluded that they could not accurately assess and compare the academic rigor of the programs at the many schools previously attended by students who have transferred to respondents" high school.  Because respondents" policy has a rational basis, I will not overturn it.

     I note, however, that respondents" "School Profile", which was sent to colleges in 2001-2002, erroneously stated that "all students are included in the rank."  The 2002-2003 "School Profile" was changed to accurately state respondents" policy.  Thus, the colleges petitioners" daughter applied to were given the correct information concerning respondent"s class rank policy.  

     In this case, there is no basis to determine that respondents" class ranking system is irrational or unreasonable.  I am therefore constrained to dismiss the appeal.