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Decision No. 15,532

Appeal of N.C., on behalf of her son C.C., from action of the Board of Education of the Goshen Central School District regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 15,532

(February 22, 2007)


H. Scott Ziemelis, Esq., attorney for petitioner

Shaw & Perelson, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Margo L. May, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Goshen Central School District (“respondent”) to suspend her son, C.C., from school. The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 2004-2005 school year, C.C. was a sophomore at respondent’s high school. By letter dated October 29, 2004, the high school principal notified petitioner that C.C. was being suspended for five days for possessing a weapon (knife blade).

By letter dated November 1, 2004, the interim superintendent advised petitioner that a superintendent’s hearing was scheduled for November 4, 2004 to consider the charges against C.C. and to determine whether additional discipline should be imposed. An attachment to this letter specified the charges against C.C. and informed petitioner of C.C.’s hearing rights. According to the attachment, on or about October 27, 2004, C.C. possessed a knife blade on a school bus and threatened another student, M.C., with it and/or held it to M.C.’s neck. The attachment also listed three charges against C.C. resulting from the weapon’s possession: (1) conduct which endangers the safety, morals, health and/or welfare of others; (2) conduct which is disorderly, violent and/or disruptive; and (3) insubordination.

A superintendent’s hearing was held on November 4 and 10, 2004. At the conclusion of the hearing, the interim superintendent found C.C. guilty of all three charges and recommended that C.C. be suspended for the remainder of the school year, with alternative instruction. Petitioner appealed this determination to respondent.

By determination dated January 12, 2005, respondent affirmed the interim superintendent’s finding of guilt and penalty. This appeal ensued. Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied.

Petitioner contends that respondent’s determination was not based on competent and substantial evidence because, inter alia, the complaining witness/student, M.C., lacked credibility due to his past disciplinary record. Petitioner also alleges that during the superintendent’s hearing the district improperly denied her request to produce the only other witness to the incident -- student S.C. In addition, petitioner asserts that respondent improperly permitted a board member, who was involved in investigating the incident, to participate in the review of her appeal. Petitioner requests that I reverse respondent’s decision and expunge the suspension from C.C.’s record.

Respondent contends that its decision is supported by the evidence and that the penalty was appropriate considering the seriousness of the incident and the potential for injury to C.C. and others. Respondent asserts that the board member, who was involved in investigating the incident, recused himself from the appeal.

The Commissioner 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 C.A., Sr., 45 Ed Dept Rep 388, Decision No. 15,360; Appeal of the New York Charter Schools Assn., Inc., et al., 45 id. 376, Decision No. 15,355; Appeal of the Bd. of Trustees of the N. Merrick Public Library, et al., 45 id. 363, Decision No. 15,350). C.C. has completed the suspension. Therefore, except to the extent that petitioner seeks expungement of C.C.’s record, the appeal is moot.

The decision to suspend a student from school pursuant to Education Law §3214 must be based on competent and substantial evidence that the student participated in the objectionable conduct (Bd. of Educ. of Monticello Cent. School Dist. v. Commissioner of Educ., et al., 91 NY2d 133; Bd. of Educ. of City School Dist. of City of New York v. Mills, et al., 293 AD2d 37; Appeal of L.T., 44 Ed Dept Rep 89, Decision No. 15,107). In this case, although C.C. denied that the knife blade was his and that he had used it to threaten M.C., he did admit during the superintendent’s hearing that he held the knife blade in his hand while arguing with M.C. on the bus and that he slid or threw the knife blade to the back of the bus where other students were seated. Where a student admits the charged conduct, the admission is sufficient proof of guilt (see e.g. Appeal of C.D., 43 Ed Dept Rep 425, Decision No. 15,041; Appeal of M.F. and J.F., 43 id. 174, Decision No. 14,960; Appeal of P.K., 41 id. 421, Decision No. 14,733). I find C.C.’s admissions competent and substantial evidence that he is guilty as charged.

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 of education (Appeal of a Student Suspected of a Disability, 44 Ed Dept Rep 158, Decision No. 15,131; Appeals of J.J., 44 id. 113, Decision No. 15,115; Appeal of D.C., 43 id. 217, Decision No. 14,976). Respondent argues that its rationale for suspending C.C. for the remainder of the school year was that his conduct posed a danger and created a substantial risk of harm. In light of the seriousness of C.C.’s actions, I cannot conclude that a six-and-one-half-month suspension with alternative instruction provided is inappropriate. Accordingly, I decline to substitute my judgment for that of respondent.

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties' remaining contentions.