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Decision No. 15,760

Appeal of TARA HALLENBACK, on behalf of her daughter TAYLOR MURPHY, from action of the Board of Education of the Sachem Central School District regarding attendance zones.

Decision No. 15, 760

(June 5, 2008)

Ingerman Smith L.L.P., attorneys for respondent, Christopher Venator, Esq., of counsel

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

At the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year, Taylor attended kindergarten at the Tamarac Elementary School ("Tamarac") in respondent’s school district.  In January 2008, petitioner and Taylor relocated to a residence in the Grundy Elementary School (“Grundy”) attendance zone.

On or about February 6, 2008, petitioner was informed that Taylor was to transfer to Grundy by February 15, 2008.  Petitioner requested that Taylor be allowed to attend Tamarac until the end of the school year.  By email dated February 13, 2008, respondent’s superintendent denied petitioner’s request.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on February 22, 2008.

Petitioner claims that Taylor has endured numerous health concerns and family issues, that Taylor has difficulty with transitioning and that transferring her to Grundy would cause emotional distress.  Petitioner acknowledges that her request is “extraordinary” but argues that the circumstances of Taylor’s case requires special consideration.

Respondent alleges that Taylor currently resides in the Grundy attendance zone and is therefore required to attend school at Grundy.  Respondent further alleges that petitioner has failed to demonstrate a legal entitlement to the relief sought and that the appeal is moot.

Respondent maintains that the appeal is moot because no stay was issued and thus, Taylor is now attending Grundy.  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).  However, petitioner specifically requests that Taylor be allowed to attend Tamarac for the remainder of the school year.  Since the school year has not ended, I decline to dismiss the appeal as moot.

The appeal, however, must be dismissed on the merits.  Pursuant to Education Law §§1804(1), 1709(3) and 1709(33), a board of education of a central 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. of the Union Free School Dist. No. 1., Town of Mamaroneck, 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, et al. v. Donovan, et al., 22 AD2d 383; affd 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, et al. v. Board of Educ. of the Union Free School Dist. No. 1., Town of Mamaroneck, 27 NY2d 333).  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).

Respondent’s policy requires students who move to a different attendance zone during the school year to change elementary schools, unless the student moves during the last quarter of the school year or in situations of educational necessity.  None of those factors are present here.  Also, it is the district’s position that it is preferable for a student who changes attendance zones during the school year to also immediately change to their new school, thereby affording students opportunities to form social contacts with other students and allowing the new school to make recommendations for the best placements for the subsequent school year.

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief (8 NYCRR §275.10; Appeal of Hoey and Kosowski, 45 Ed Dept Rep 501, Decision No. 15,394; Application of Bliss, 45 id. 308, Decision No. 15,331; Appeal of Rubinstein, 45 id. 299, Decision No. 15,329).  Based on the record before me, I find that petitioner has not met her burden of showing that respondent acted in a manner that was arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy.

The fact that Taylor may have some difficulty adjusting to a new school, while 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 wishes to have Taylor attend the same school throughout the school year, there is no legal basis to grant the relief petitioner seeks (Appeal of Giovanniello, 44 Ed Dept Rep 17, Decision No. 15,081; Appeal of Kershaw, 37 id. 186, Decision No. 13,837).