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Decision No. 15,336

Appeal of JOSEPH and DONNA ARANEO, on behalf of their son JAMES, from action of the Board of Education of the Valley Stream Central High School District regarding attendance zones.

Decision No. 15,336

(December 21, 2005)

Berger & Brandow, LLP, attorneys for petitioners, Deborah Berger, Esq., of counsel

Guercio & Guercio, attorneys for respondent, John P. Sheahan, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the determination of the Board of Education of the Valley Stream Central High School District ("respondent") that their son, James, may not attend school outside the attendance zone in which he resides. The appeal must be dismissed.

Respondent operates one junior high school for grades 7 through 9, Memorial Junior High School ("Memorial"); one senior high school for grades 10 through 12, Central High School; and two combined junior/senior high schools, North High School and South High School ("North" and "South" respectively). Petitioners reside in the Memorial attendance zone.

Respondent's Policy 5110 provides that students attend school in the zone where they reside except by approval of the superintendent. A waiver request to attend a different secondary school must be received in writing by the superintendent's office no later than February 15th of the school year preceding the date a student will first attend the secondary school.

By letter dated December 13, 2004, respondent's superintendent notified the parents of incoming seventh grade students of Policy 5110. By letter dated March 10, 2005, petitioners requested a waiver so that James would be permitted to attend school at North, outside his attendance zone. By letter dated April 6, 2005, respondent's superintendent acknowledged receipt of petitioners' letter and reiterated that the deadline for such requests was February 15.

By letter dated April 2005, petitioners received a letter inviting them to visit North with their child. On or about April 21, 2005, James went on a school trip to attend an orientation session at North. On or about May 2, 2005, Mrs. Araneo asked for official acceptance of the waiver and was told that it was going to be denied. On May 4, 2005, Mrs. Araneo and James attended an orientation session at North, where James was listed as a North student. Thereafter, petitioners received registration documents from North.

On May 9, 2005, Mr. Araneo met with the superintendent who advised him to present the matter to respondent. By letter dated June 3, 2005, petitioners appealed to respondent, and by letter dated June 9, 2005 respondent denied petitioners' appeal. This appeal ensued. Petitioners' request for interim relief was denied on July 12, 2005.

Petitioners allege that due to a family illness they were unable to timely submit a waiver request and that this constituted good cause for the delay. Petitioners also allege that, due to administrative errors, they were led to believe that the waiver had been granted, and therefore, respondent is estopped from preventing James from attending school at North. Petitioners contend that James' teacher, principal and school psychologist believe that it is in his best interest to attend North. Petitioners request that I find that respondent abused its discretion in denying the waiver, and that James be permitted to attend North.

Respondent maintains that petitioners have failed to establish the facts upon which they seek relief. Respondent also alleges that its determination was consistent with its waiver policy, which is based on sound educational policy, and was not arbitrary or capricious.

Pursuant to Education Law �1709(3) and (33), a board of education of a union free school district 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). Such powers and duties are applicable to boards of central high school districts by virtue of Education Law �1903. In the assignment of pupils to schools, a board of education has broad discretion (Matter of Addabbo, et al. v. Donovan, et al., 22 AD2d 383; affd 16 NY2d 619, cert denied 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, et al. v. Board of Educ., 27 NY2d 333). Petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that respondent's action meets this standard (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).

I find that petitioners have failed to meet their burden. Respondent's policy requires that a waiver request must be received at the superintendent's office no later than February 15 of the school year preceding the date on which the student will first attend secondary school. Respondent argues that its policy is designed to balance enrollment between the secondary school facilities and the deadline provides the district with sufficient time to review requests in light of the limited space and resources. Therefore, it appears that respondent's policy has a rational basis and is consistent with sound educational policy. Petitioners admit that they failed to meet the deadline set forth in the policy. Thus, petitioners have no legal basis to insist that their son be permitted to attend North.

The fact that petitioners were provided with orientation materials for, and attended an orientation session at North does not estop respondent from requiring petitioners' son to attend school within his attendance zone. Equitable estoppel does not apply against a government subdivision except in limited circumstances not applicable here (Parkview Assoc. v. City of New York, et al., 71 NY2d 274; Appeal of Perez, 42 Ed Dept Rep 71, Decision No. 14,779; Appeal of Holzer, 37 id. 549, Decision No. 13,924).

On the record before me, I cannot conclude that respondent's decision was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy, and therefore, I will not disturb it.