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Decision No. 15,703

Appeal of K.K. and E.K. on behalf of their son J.K., from action of the Board of Education of the Monticello Central School District, Assistant Superintendent Patrick Michel, Principal Kimberly Patterson, Assistant Principal John Correa, and Claudia Cordisco regarding a grade determination.

Decision No. 15,703

(December 21, 2007)

Kenneth C. Klein, Esq., attorney for petitioners

Donoghue, Thomas, Auslander & Drohan, LLP, attorneys for respondent board, Krystina E. Cho, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the actions of the Board of Education of the Monticello Central School District (“respondent board” or “board”), Assistant Superintendent Patrick Michel, Principal Kimberley Patterson, Assistant Principal John Correa and fourth-grade teacher Claudia Cordisco (collectively “respondents”) regarding a grade of zero awarded to their son, J.K.  The appeal must be dismissed.

On April 6, 2006, J.K.’s fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Cordisco, administered a math test to the class.  J.K. was allowed to move to a table in the back of the room to take the test.  During the test, Ms. Cordisco observed another student, who had completed the test, talking with J.K.  Ms. Cordisco questioned both students and J.K. admitted that the other student had given him the answer to a test question.  Ms. Cordisco told both students they would receive a grade of zero on the test.

The following day, Assistant Principal Correa met with petitioner E.K. to discuss the incident.  E.K. requested that the principal investigate the incident.  After speaking with the teacher and both students, Principal Patterson concluded that the grade of zero would remain in effect.  On May 15, 2006, petitioners met with Principal Patterson to discuss the decision, and by letter dated May 17, 2006, Principal Patterson confirmed the decision.  This appeal ensued.

Petitioners contend that the imposition of a grade of zero is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.  They claim that imposing a grade of zero violates the school district’s code of conduct and that the teacher failed to maintain an appropriate test-taking environment in the classroom.  They ask that their son’s record be expunged of any reference to cheating on the test and the zero grade.

Respondent board alleges that the district’s actions were reasonable.  It maintains that J.K.’s conduct compromised the integrity of the test and that the grade was not a disciplinary penalty.

In their reply, petitioners note that individual respondents Cordisco, Correa and Patterson -- who they allege were the only persons directly involved in the incident -- did not answer the petition.  They also argue that the board’s answer was verified by respondent Michel, who they allege is not personally familiar with the facts.  They also argue that the verification of the answer was untimely.

The record indicates that the board’s answer was timely served in accordance with the Commissioner’s regulations.  I find that service of the verification several days later was a deminimus error and in my discretion I have thus considered the board’s answer (seee.g.Appeals of the City School Dist. of the City of Plattsburgh, 45 Ed Dept Rep 350, Decision No. 15,345).  I further find there is no proof that respondent Michel was not sufficiently familiar with the facts in order to sign the verification (see 8 NYCRR § 275.5).

I will not substitute my judgment for that of school officials on a student’s grade absent a clear showing that that determination was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable (Appeal of John W. and Lorraine W., 37 Ed Dept Rep 713, Decision No. 13,965; Appeal of Hickey, 32 id. 12, Decision No. 12,741).  Where a student is found to have compromised the integrity of even one portion of an examination, a grade of zero, after a full investigation by the school district of the circumstances surrounding the grade, and after the student had an opportunity to present his version of the incident, is not arbitrary or capricious (seeAppeal of Thomas and Judith K., 30 Ed Dept Rep 245, Decision No. 12,450).

Here, the principal conducted an investigation and met with petitioners and their son about the incident at least two times.  The principal interviewed both students, the teacher, as well as an Academic Intervention Services (“AIS”) teacher, who was team teaching with Ms. Cordisco at the time of the incident.  The AIS teacher, in an affidavit submitted with the answer, corroborated the teacher’s account of the incident.  Based on the record before me, I cannot conclude that the grading decision was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.  To the contrary, the record demonstrates it was entirely appropriate under the circumstances.

I have considered petitioners’ remaining contentions and find them to be without merit.