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Decision No. 16,359

Appeal of V.T., on behalf of his daughter J.T., from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Binghamton regarding student discipline.

Appeal No. 16,359

(June 12, 2012)

Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Cheryl I. Sacco, Esq., of counsel

KING, JR., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Binghamton (“respondent”) to suspend his daughter, J.T.  The appeal must be dismissed.

During the 2009-2010 school year, J.T. attended respondent’s high school.  On June 10, 2010, a food fight occurred at the high school and escalated into student threats and physical assaults on school administrators and police officers.  Local law enforcement had to assist school administrators in restoring order and control to the school.  During this incident, school administrators and police ordered J.T. and several other students to move away from the high school and go across the street.  However, J.T. repeatedly failed to comply with these directives and, ultimately, was removed from the scene by police and arrested.

By letter dated June 11, 2010, the principal informed petitioner that he was suspending J.T. for five days for acting in an insubordinate, disorderly and disruptive manner during the June 10 incident by failing to follow the directives of school personnel or police to leave the premises.

By letter dated June 14, 2010, the superintendent informed petitioner that a suspension hearing was scheduled for June 17, 2010.  During the hearing, J.T. admitted that she engaged in the charged conduct.  In addition, the assistant principal testified that he instructed J.T. several times to move away from the high school and go across the street, but she refused.  He further testified that J.T. yelled at police officers and was eventually arrested for disorderly conduct.  The principal also testified regarding J.T.’s conduct.

By decision dated June 30, 2010, the superintendent notified petitioner that, based on J.T.’s repeated refusal to comply with the directives of school administrators and police, which contributed to the chaotic situation at the school on June 10, 2010, J.T. was suspended from school from September 8, 2010 through January 28, 2011.  The decision informed petitioner that, during the suspension, J.T. would receive two hours of home teaching at the Columbus Learning Center in Binghamton.  Subsequently, at petitioner’s request, the two hours of home instruction per day was modified to a full day program at the Board of Cooperative Educational Services for the Sole Supervisory District of Broome-Delaware-Tioga (“BOCES”).

On or about September 13, 2010, petitioner appealed the suspension to respondent.  The appeal was scheduled for review by respondent at its October 19, 2010 meeting.  Prior to this meeting, respondent’s president was contacted by representatives of parents of several students involved in the June 10, 2010 incident, who asked for an opportunity to publicly address respondent at the meeting.  According to respondent, its president offered to arrange separate, private meetings for each parent and student to discuss his or her appeal, but this offer was declined.

According to respondent, at the October 19, 2010 board meeting, the board president explained to the assembled individuals that they were in a public session and that they should, pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) (20 USC §1232g, etseq.), refrain from using student names or other personally identifiable information when discussing the June 10, 2010 incident.  Despite this announcement, several individuals, including petitioner, disclosed personally identifiable information regarding some students, including the discipline that had been imposed on them as a result of the incident.  Subsequently, respondent went into executive session to consider, interalia, petitioner’s appeal.

By decision dated October 20, 2010, respondent upheld J.T.’s suspension.  This appeal ensued.

Petitioner asserts that the five day suspension notice was defective and violated J.T.’s right to due process because it did not provide sufficient notice of the charges against her.  Petitioner maintains that the hearing officer’s conduct was improper and that, interalia, J.T. was coerced into confessing to the charges and also should not have been called as the first witness at the hearing.  Petitioner contends that the six month suspension with alternative instruction constituted an “impermissible” involuntary transfer.  Petitioner asserts that the superintendent, herself, did not arrive at the decision regarding the discipline to be imposed on the student.  Petitioner maintains that respondent’s objectivity in deciding petitioner’s appeal was compromised by the public statements at its October 19, 2010 meeting.  Petitioner also challenges the six month suspension as excessive and seeks to have “all penalties and transfers against [J.T.] and/or currently in effect” be reversed and vacated.

Respondent contends that the petitioner fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  Respondent maintains that it complied with all procedural and due process requirements and that the suspension imposed was an appropriate penalty.  Respondent further asserts that J.T. was not involuntarily transferred because the suspension constituted discipline and J.T.’s full day attendance at the BOCES was implemented at petitioner’s request.  Respondent contends that the public statements made at its October 19, 2010 meeting did not impact its October 20, 2010 decision upholding J.T.’s suspension. 

The appeal must be dismissed as moot.  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 a Student with a Disability, 48 Ed Dept Rep 532, Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937; Appeal of Embro, 48 id. 204, Decision No. 15,836).  Here, J.T. completed her suspension shortly after commencement of this appeal.  Petitioner does not request expungement of his daughter’s records.  Since petitioner’s daughter has served the suspension, no further meaningful relief can be granted and the appeal must be dismissed as moot (Appeal of A.B., 50 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,147; Appeal of C.A., 48 id. 340, Decision No. 15,878; Appeal of C.A., Sr., 45 id. 388, Decision No. 15,360).

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