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Decision No. 14,923

Appeal of FUAD and ALLISON BISSAR, on behalf of their children BLAZE and STORM, from action of the Board of Education of the Connetquot Central School District regarding a transportation plan.



(August 12, 2003)


Guercio & Guercio, attorneys for respondent, Vanessa M. Sheehan, Esq., of counsel


CATE, Acting Commissioner.--Petitioners challenge the decision of the Board of Education of the Connetquot Central School District ("respondent") to modify its two-tiered transportation schedule for the district"s elementary schools.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners reside in respondent"s district with their two children, Blaze and Storm, who attend the Sycamore Elementary School ("Sycamore").  For approximately 25 years, respondent"s district has had a two-tiered system for transporting its elementary school students.  Students attending Tier 1 elementary schools (Cherokee, Pearl, Slocum and Sycamore) are dropped off at school at approximately 8:35 a.m. and picked up at 3:05 p.m., while students attending Tier 2 elementary schools (Bosti, Duffield and Idle Hour) are dropped off at approximately 9:15 a.m. and picked up at 3:45 p.m.  The beginning and ending of the school day at each elementary school is coordinated with the busing schedule.  On May 7, 2002, respondent voted to switch the Tier assignments for all of the district"s elementary schools, with the exception of Cherokee, effective at the start of the 2003-2004 school year.  Under the revised plan, students attending Cherokee, Bosti, Duffield and Idle Hour would be transported under the 8:35 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. schedule and students attending Pearl, Slocum and Sycamore would be transported under the 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. schedule.  The board further voted to rotate the Tier assignment of each school every three years.

In November 2002, the district"s elementary principals notified parents of respondent"s plan to implement the revised transportation schedule at the start of the 2003-2004 school year.  After a number of district parents raised concerns about the change, respondent established a "Transportation Tier 1-Tier 2 Task Force" ("task force") to evaluate the proposed schedule change, identify feasible alternatives, and submit any recommendations to respondent and the superintendent no later than March 1, 2003.  The task force was composed of a parent representative from each elementary and junior high school, two parent representatives from the high school, community representatives and several district administrators.  After conducting five meetings, which were open to the public, the task force issued a set of recommendations that were presented to the superintendent by memorandum dated March 5, 2003.  The task force recommended that respondent implement its May 7, 2002 transportation resolution with the provisos that respondent advance the start times of all the district"s schools by ten minutes, and review annually the efficacy of the tier rotation plan.  On April 8, 2003, respondent voted to advance the start and end times of the district"s schools by 10 minutes and to implement the Tier rotation plan approved in May 2002.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioners" request for interim relief was denied on May 20, 2003.

Petitioners contend that respondent"s decision to rotate Tier assignments every three years is arbitrary and capricious.  Petitioners assert, among other things, that respondent did not obtain sufficient community input before adopting the plan, and that the rotation system will impose a hardship on families of elementary school students. Petitioners request that the Commissioner prohibit respondent from rotating Tier assignments or require respondent to adopt one transportation schedule for all the district"s elementary schools.  Respondent contends that its decision to modify its transportation schedule is rational.

Education Law "3635 requires a board of education to provide transportation based upon the distance between a student"s home and the school he or she legally attends.  However, a board of education has broad discretion to determine the manner in which such transportation will be provided (Appeal of Brassard, 33 Ed Dept Rep 497, Decision No. 13,127; Appeal of Pronin, 27 id. 203, Decision No. 11,920; Matter of Tomasso, 23 id. 120, Decision No. 11,159). Moreover, a board of education has both the responsibility and authority to implement a transportation policy that balances the safety and convenience of individual pupils with overall economy and efficiency (Appeal of McCarthy and Bacher, 42 Ed Dept Rep    , Decision No. 14,872; Appeal of Polifka, 31 id. 61, Decision No. 12,569; Appeal of Cunningham, 28 id. 10, Decision No. 12,012).  The Commissioner of Education will uphold a district"s transportation determination, unless it is unreasonable or an abuse of discretion (Appeal of McCarthy and Bacher, supra; Appeal of Polifka, supra).  In an appeal to the Commissioner, petitioners bear the burden of establishing all of the facts upon which they seek relief and to demonstrate a clear legal right to the relief requested (8 NYCRR "275.10; Appeal of Laurie, 42 Ed Dept Rep    , Decision No. 14,867; Appeal of Boiko, 40 id. 409, Decision No. 14,513).

Petitioners have failed to establish that respondent"s transportation policy is unreasonable or an abuse of discretion.  Respondent states that it utilizes a two-tiered transportation schedule for the district"s elementary students due to "transportation constraints."  Respondent apparently decided to modify the schedule by rotating the Tier assignment of the district"s elementary schools every three years in an effort to be fair.  However, in response to parental concerns, respondent established a task force with parent representation from each of the district"s schools to study the transportation plan and suggest alternatives.  Ultimately, respondent adopted the task force"s recommendations, which included implementing the Tier rotation schedule, but advancing the start time of the district"s schools by ten minutes.  Under these circumstances, I cannot conclude that respondent"s actions are unreasonable or an abuse of discretion.