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Decision No. 15,188

Appeal of B.S., on behalf of his daughter J.S., from action of the Board of Education of the Sachem Central School District regarding attendance zones.

Decision No. 15,188

(March 11, 2005)

The Law Office of Kenneth M. Mollins, P.C., attorneys for petiti oner, Kenneth M. Mollins, Esq., of counsel

Ingerman Smith, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Neil M. Block, Esq., of counsel


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Sachem Central School District ("respondent") that his daughter may not attend school outside the attendance zone in which she resides. The appeal must be dismissed.

Prior to September 2004, respondent maintained a high school campus for grades 9-10 named Sachem High School South ("Sachem South") and a separate campus for grades 11-12 named Sachem High School North ("Sachem North"). Effective September 2004, Sachem South was transformed into the Samoset Middle School. Sachem North was expanded to accommodate grades 9-12 and a new, separate high school campus also for grades 9-12 was formed and named Sachem High School East ("Sachem East"). The determination as to whether a student would attend Sachem North or Sachem East was based on residence.

J.S. attended Sachem South during the 2003-2004 school year. At the beginning of the school year, her registration records reflected that she resided at an address on Van Horn Avenue, Holbrook, which is within the Sachem North attendance zone. However, sometime during the 2003-2004 school year petitioner relocated to a residence on Inverness Drive, Holbrook, which is in the Sachem East attendance zone.

In anticipation of students attending either Sachem North or Sachem East in the 2004-2005 school year, two cheerleading squads were established at Sachem South. Cheerleaders were assigned to the respective squads based on their residence. During the 2003-2004 school year, based on residency information provided by petitioner and/or his daughter, J.S. was designated as a Sachem North student and allowed to participate on the Sachem North cheerleading squad. A rivalry developed between that squad and the Sachem East squad. Because of J.S.'s "high profile" on the Sachem North squad, she was allegedly singled out and physically and psychologically abused by the girls on the Sachem East squad.

By letter dated August 27 2004, petitioner was notified that because J.S.'s legal domicile was on Inverness Drive, she was required to attend Sachem East. By letter dated September 1, 2004, petitioner requested that respondent transfer her to Sachem North. By letter dated September 9, 2004 respondent's superintendent notified petitioner that his request for a transfer was denied, that Sachem East was a safe environment for J.S. and that petitioner had not presented a compelling reason for J.S. to attend school out of her attendance zone. This appeal ensued. Petitioner' s request for interim relief was denied on September 28, 2004.

Petitioner alleges that during J.S.'s sophomore year, she resided in the Sachem North attendance zone and therefore should be permitted to attend school in that zone. Petitioner also alleges that his daughter should be permitted to attend Sachem North because she has been verbally and physically abused by students attending Sachem East, and that her placement at that school poses a serious threat to her health and safety. Finally, petitioner alleges that respondent's decision to place J.S. in Sachem East was arbitrary and capricious.

Respondent alleges that J.S. currently resides in the Sachem East attendance zone and is therefore required to attend school in that zone. Respondent further alleges that petitioner has failed to demonstrate that Sachem East is an unsafe environment for J.S. or that her placement there was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound education policy.

Petitioner submitted letters dated September 10 and 23, 2004 from J.S.'s psychiatrist and an affidavit from J.S.'s sister to support arguments made in his petition. Respondent did not object to these submissions. Pursuant to �276.5 of the Commissioner's regulations, I will accept these documents for consideration.

Pursuant to Education Law �1709(3) and (33), a board of education has the authority and responsibility to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Matter of Older, et al. v. Board of Educ., 27 NY2d 333; Appeal of P.S., 39 Ed Dept Rep 806, Decision No. 14,387; Appeal of Ibrahim, 39 id. 155, Decision No. 14,200). In the assignment of pupils to schools, a board of education has broad discretion (Matter of Addabbo v. Donovan, 22 AD2d 383; aff'd 16 NY2d 619, cert den 382 US 905; Appeal of the Lancaster Parent Alliance, 38 Ed Dept Rep 356, Decision No. 14,053). Accordingly, a board's decision regarding school assignments will only be overturned when found to be arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older, supra). Moreover, petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that respondent's action is arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeals of Johnson, et al., 37 Ed Dept Rep 465, Decision No. 13,906; Appeal of Sherwood, et al., 33 id. 410, Decision No. 13,096; Appeal of McNerney, et al., 28 id. 250, Decision No. 12,097).

Petitioner provides no evidence, other than the unsubstantiated allegations in the petition, that J.S. was harassed, that her personal property was destroyed, or that her safety will be jeopardized by her placement in Sachem East. In an affidavit submitted in opposition to the petition, however, the principal of Sachem East avers that J.S. never complained to any school official that she was threatened or bullied, nor did she notify school officials that her personal property had been destroyed. Furthermore, the record reflects that there are "bullying boxes" in the school building where students can place anonymous complaints and, there is no evidence that J.S. ever used a box to lodge a complaint.

Petitioner contends that forcing J.S. to attend Sachem East will adversely affect her psychological and emotional well-being and, therefore, she should be permitted to attend Sachem North. In support of this contention, petitioner submits a letter dated August 30, 2004 from J.S.'s physician who states that "[J.S.] needs a stable, familiar environment for her mental health [and that] [s]he has been advised not to make sudden, big changes in her life." Petitioner also submits two letters from a psychiatrist that indicate J.S. should be permitted to attend Sachem North due to feelings of insecurity, anxiety, panic and depression resulting from being bullied. Finally, petitioner submits an ambulance report which indicates that J.S. was found upset, sobbing and hyperventilating reportedly because she was anxious about entering a different high school.

The fact that J.S. may have some difficulty adjusting to a new school, while certainly regrettable, is not a basis for overturning respondent's decision (Appeal of Giovanniello, 44 Ed Dept Rep 17, Decision No. 15,081; Appeal of Sponcy, 33 id. 126, Decision No. 12,998; Appeal of Cullen, 32 id. 179, Decision No. 12,798). While I am sympathetic to petitioner's assertion that his daughter has experienced anxiety about attending a different high school, there is no legal basis to reverse the local district's decision unless it is proven to be arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy (Appeal of Giovanniello, supra; Appeal of Kershaw, 37 Ed Dept Rep 186, Decision No. 13,837).

On the record before me, I cannot conclude that respondent's decision meets that standard, and therefore, I will not disturb it.