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Decision No. 14,976

Appeal of D.C., on behalf of her son M.C., from action of the Board of Education of the East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District regarding student discipline.


Decision No.14,976


October 22, 2003


Suzette M. Melendez, Esq., attorney for petitioner, Syracuse University College of Law Children"s Rights and Family Law Clinic, Maureen F. Wagner, student attorney, of counsel


Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Donald E. Budmen, Esq., of counsel


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the disciplinary penalty that the Board of Education of the East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District ("respondent") imposed on her son, M.C.  The appeal must be dismissed.

M.C. attended the ninth grade at respondent"s high school at the time of the events leading up to this appeal.  On Friday, March 14, 2003, a pocketknife fell out of M.C."s jacket pocket while he was riding a district bus to school.  Another student on the bus saw the knife and reported the incident to his mother, who in turn reported it to the district.

On Monday, March 17, 2003, the knife and a lighter were found in M.C."s jacket pocket when his locker was searched, and the principal suspended him for five days.  On March 24, 2003, a superintendent"s hearing was held to determine whether an additional penalty should be imposed.  The hearing officer recommended that the student be suspended for the remainder of the school year, with the period of suspension to be reviewed at the end of the fifth marking period for possible re-admittance based on such factors as his continuing academic performance, behavior and attendance at alternative instruction.  The superintendent adopted the recommendation of the hearing officer.  On April 21, 2003, respondent upheld the superintendent"s determination, and this appeal ensued.

 Petitioner contends that respondent should expunge any reference to the suspension because the penalty imposed was arbitrary, capricious, excessive and a violation of respondent"s code of conduct.  Respondent contends that the appeal is moot.  Respondent further contends that the penalty was appropriate and maintains that expungement is unwarranted because there is no dispute that the incident occurred.

The Commissioner of Education will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of K.M., 41 Ed Dept Rep 318, Decision No. 14,699; Appeal of N.B., 40 id. 515, Decision No. 14,542; Appeal of N.C., 40 id. 445, Decision No. 14,522).  M.C. has completed the suspension.  Therefore, except to the extent that petitioner seeks expungement of M.C."s record, the instant appeal is moot.

In cases of student discipline, the sanction imposed must be proportionate to the severity of the offense involved.  The test to be applied in reviewing a penalty is whether it is so excessive as to warrant substitution of the Commissioner"s judgment for that of the board (Appeal of J.C. and P.C., 41 Ed Dept Rep 395, Decision No. 14,723; Appeal of Harlan, 40 id. 309, Decision No. 14,488) .

M.C. avers that he brought the knife and lighter to a Boy Scout meeting on Thursday night, March 13, 2003, and forgot to remove them from his jacket before going to school on Friday, March 14, 2003, and Monday, March 17, 2003.  Respondent argues that its rationale in suspending M.C. for the remainder of the school year was that his conduct, even if inadvertent, posed a danger and created a substantial risk of harm.  Moreover, the penalty was reduced to a six-week suspension due to M.C."s continuing academic performance, behavior and attendance at alternative instruction.

In light of the seriousness of M.C."s conduct, I cannot conclude that the imposition of a six-week suspension was inappropriate (SeeAppeal of M.G., 41 Ed Dept Rep 58, Decision No. 14,614; Appeal of DeRosa, 36 id. 336, Decision No. 13,741; Appeal of Alexander, 36 id. 160, Decision No. 13,689).  I also find it consistent with respondent"s code of conduct.  As such, there is no basis to overturn respondent"s decision or expunge M.C."s record.

In view of this disposition, I need not address the parties" remaining contentions.