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Decision No. 17,339

Appeal of S.K., on behalf of her son R.K., from action of the Board of Education of the Gates-Chili Central School District regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 17,339

(March 13, 2018)

The Legal Aid Society of Rochester, New York, attorneys for petitioner, Denise Buscemi, Esq., of counsel

Harris Beach, PLLC, attorneys for respondent, Kate L. Hill, Esq., of counsel

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the decision of the Board of Education of the Gates-Chili Central School District (“respondent”) to impose discipline upon her son (“the student”).  The appeal must be dismissed.

The record indicates that, on September 15, 2014, the student left his school building without permission.  The student returned to school later that day.  At school, the high school assistant principal learned that the student had a knife in his bookbag.  In a written notice dated the same day, the principal suspended the student for five days based upon this conduct.

On September 19, 2014, the district notified the student that it would convene a long-term suspension hearing on two charges: (1) walking out of the building without permission; and (2) possession a knife at school.

The long-term suspension hearing, presided over by a hearing officer, convened as scheduled.  The student admitted his guilt as to the charged conduct at the hearing.

In a written recommendation, the hearing officer recommended that the student be found guilty of both charges.  With respect to penalty, the hearing officer noted that the student had received prior discipline including, most recently, a long-term suspension in May 2013 “for outlining steps on how to kill a student” and “possession of marijuana.”  The hearing officer recommended a suspension for the remainder of the 2014-2015 school year.

In a written decision dated September 22, 2014, the superintendent adopted the recommendations of the hearing officer with respect to guilt and penalty and imposed a suspension through June 30, 2015.  Petitioner appealed this decision to respondent.  In a letter dated October 8, 2014, respondent upheld the superintendent’s determination.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on December 4, 2014.

Petitioner contends that respondent obtained the knife by means of an unconstitutional search.  Petitioner further argues that the student’s penalty was excessive.  Petitioner requests that the student’s suspension be reversed.

Respondent contends that it appropriately found the student guilty of the charged conduct based upon his admission of guilt, and that a penalty of suspension through the remainder of the 2014-2015 school year was appropriate.

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).

The only relief requested by petitioner, in addition to interim relief, is reversal of the student’s suspension.  As noted above, petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on December 4, 2014.  The record indicates that the student has served the long-term suspension and petitioner did not request expungement of his record.  Therefore, no further meaningful relief can be granted and the appeal must be dismissed as moot (Appeal of L.B., 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,998; Appeal of S.V., 55 id., Decision No. 16,829; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 53 id., Decision No. 16,561).

However, even if the appeal were not moot, it would be dismissed on the merits.  With regard to petitioner’s claim that the knife was the fruit of an unconstitutional search of the student’s backpack, the record reveals that petitioner failed to raise this issue at the hearing or in her appeal to respondent.  Accordingly, she cannot raise such issue in an appeal from respondent’s determination pursuant to Education Law §310 (see Appeal of C.B.R., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,211; Appeal of S.Z. and K.Z., 52 id., Decision No. 16,384; Appeal of C.M., 50 id., Decision No. 16,142).  Further, to the extent petitioner intends to challenge the finding of guilt, I note that the student admitted his guilt at the hearing and petitioner has established no basis upon which to overturn such finding.

With respect to penalty, I do not find a penalty of approximately one school year so excessive as to justify substituting my judgment for that of respondent.  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 S.U., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,159; Appeal of F.W., 48 id. 399, Decision No. 15,897).  The hearing officer determined that the knife in question was a “karambit” knife with a three to four inch curved blade.  Possession of such a weapon on school grounds is a serious offense warranting a significant penalty.  Moreover, an approximately one school year suspension is particularly appropriate here given the student's voluminous anecdotal record, including the extremely serious conduct committed in March 2013 summarized in the hearing officer’s written recommendation.

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