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Decision No. 15,361

Appeal of GRETCHEN C. GILBERT, on behalf of THOMAS J., and RACHEL A. ROMACK, from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Ithaca regarding residency.

Decision No. 15,361

(February 9, 2006)

Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, attorneys for respondent, Jonathan B. Fellows, Esq., of counsel

Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Ithaca ("respondent") that her children, Thomas and Rachel, are not district residents. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner's children lived in and attended schools in respondent's district until June 2005. At that time, petitioner reported that she had recently purchased a residence on White Church Road and requested a change in address. By letter dated July 8, 2005, respondent informed petitioner that the property was not within the district and her children could only remain in respondent's schools by paying tuition. This appeal ensued. Petitioner 's request for interim relief was denied on August 10, 2005.

Petitioner argues that when she purchased the home on White Church Road she was assured by the district that her children could continue to attend district schools without the payment of tuition. She alleges that prior to purchasing the house, the district provided her with a document, available on its website, showing all addresses qualifying for residency, including the White Church Road property. Petitioner claims that she confirmed this information with respondent's transportation supervisor. Petitioner maintains that, based on the above information, she purchased the house although she knew that her taxes would be paid to the Candor Central School District. She now asks that her children be allowed to attend respondent's schools without the payment of tuition or that the district's borders be adjusted so that her property is in respondent's district.

Respondent's assistant to the Superintendent maintains that petitioner knew her taxes were to be paid to the Candor Central School District when she purchased the property. The assistant superintendent admits that the transportation information, which was available on the district's website, listed "White Church Rd. Brooktondale to 230" in the district, but asserts that this applies only to even street numbers up to 230. All odd street number houses over 201 on that road are not within the district. The assistant to the superintendent further maintains that the district transportation director is not authorized to make residency determinations. Finally, she claims that she has examined the tax maps and verified that petitioner's property is located in the Candor Central School District.

Education Law �3202(1) provides, in pertinent part:

A person over five and under twenty-one years of age who has not received a high school diploma is entitled to attend the public schools maintained in the district in which such person resides without the payment of tuition.

The purpose of this statute is to limit the obligation of school districts to provide tuition-free education to students whose parents or legal guardians reside within the district (Appeal of Cross, 44 Ed Dept Rep 58, Decision No. 15,098; Appeal of G.P., 44 id. 52, Decision No. 15,096; Appeal of Chorro, 44 id. 50, Decision No. 15,095).Petitioner and her children reside at an address on White Church Road, which is located outside respondent's school district. Therefore, absent any other grounds for sustaining the appeal, petitioner's children are not entitled to attend respondent's schools tuition-free.

The potentially misleading information on the district's website and the transportation director's statements to petitioner are extremely unfortunate, but do not bar respondent from later refusing to admit the children. Except in limited circumstances not applicable here, equitable estoppel does not apply against a governmental subdivision (Parkview Assoc. v. City of New York, et al., 71 NY2d 274; Appeal of Araneo, 45 Ed Dept Rep ___, Decision No. 15,336). Specifically, in residency cases, a mistake by a school district representing that a certain property is located within the district does not vest any legal right in such students to attend on a tuition-free basis (Appeal of Prospero, 37 Ed Dept Rep 62, Decision No. 13,804). Therefore, I will not disturb respondent's residency determination.