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Decision No. 17,752

Appeal of K.A., on behalf of his daughter, R.A., from action of the Board of Education of the Deer Park Union Free School District, regarding student discipline.

Decision No. 17,752

(September 18, 2019)

Frazer & Feldman, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Christie R. Jacobson and Laura A. Ferrugiari, Esqs., of counsel.

BERLIN., Interim Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the Board of Education of the Deer Park Union Free School District (“respondent”) to suspend his daughter (“the student” or “R.A.”) from school.  The appeal must be dismissed.

At the time of the events giving rise to this appeal, R.A. was a senior attending respondent's high school.  On March 7, 2019, the high school associate principal was informed by the coach of the high school’s kickline team that a threatening post directed at the team had been posted on social media and viewed by students and parents.  Later that day, R.A. admitted to the associate principal that she had created and published the post in question on the social media platform Instagram.  The post included a meme illustration she found online depicting an individual pointing a gun at a second individual, with the person being aimed at saying, “Sorry for being white,” and the person pointing the gun responding, “Some crimes can never be forgiven.”  In the caption to this post, R.A. refers to members of the Deer Park High School Kickline team returning with “cornrows and henna” from a trip to Disney.  R.A. told the associate principal that the social media post was a joke and a mistake, explaining that she’d been trying to start a conversation about “cultural appropriation.”

By letter dated March 7, 2019, the high school principal (“the principal”) suspended R.A. for five days beginning on March 8, 2019.  Petitioner appealed R.A.’s suspension to the principal.  By letter dated March 8, 2019, the principal affirmed R.A.’s suspension.  On March 13, 2019, a superintendent’s hearing was held, presided over by a hearing officer.  In a written report dated March 13, 2019, the hearing officer recommended that the student be found guilty of the charged conduct and suspended for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year.  In a letter dated March 14, 2019, the superintendent adopted the hearing officer’s recommendations concerning guilt and penalty.  Petitioner appealed the superintendent’s decision to respondent and, by letter dated March 27, 2019, respondent upheld the superintendent’s decision.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner's request for interim relief was denied on May 21, 2019.

Petitioner asserts that respondent “did not give [him] a proper opportunity to be represented by counsel at the superintendent’s hearing” and did not ask his daughter at the hearing if she wanted to waive representation by counsel, even though she “is 18 years old and should be treated as a legal adult.”  Further, petitioner challenges the long-term suspension, asserting that his daughter does not fit the profile of someone who would plan or attempt any violence against the school community in light of her strong academic record and lack of any prior disciplinary history.  He also contends that respondent was “dismissive” of his daughter’s “past apologies,” both to respondent and during the superintendent’s hearing.  While it is not entirely clear from the petition, petitioner appears to challenge the severity of the suspension and any prohibition against the student attending high school graduation.  Finally, petitioner alleges that respondent failed to provide sufficient appropriate alternative education for the student’s AP Government class during her suspension.  For relief, petitioner seeks to have his daughter’s suspension “overturn[ed]” so that she may finish the academic school year and attend graduation.

Respondent contends that the appeal must be dismissed, inter alia, as untimely and moot; that petitioner and the student were afforded all rights guaranteed by law, including notice of their right to be represented by an attorney; and that petitioner has not met his burden of establishing a clear legal right to relief requested.  Respondent asserts that its determination of R.A.’s guilt as to the charged conduct was based on competent and substantial evidence, including the student’s admission to having uploaded the threatening post.  Finally, respondent argues that the penalty imposed was appropriate in light of the serious nature of R.A.’s conduct.

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 Sutton, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,331; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 id. 532, Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937).  Here, the student was suspended through the end of the 2018-2019 school year.  Petitioner's request for interim relief was denied on May 21, 2019, the school year ended shortly thereafter, and the Deer Park High School 2019 graduation ceremony scheduled for June 28, 2019, presumably held.  Petitioner does not seek expungement of the suspension from the student’s record.  Thus, no further meaningful relief can be granted, and the appeal must be dismissed as moot (Appeal of S.V., 55 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,829; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 53 id., Decision No. 16,561; Appeal of H.B., 49 id. 433, Decision No. 16,073, aff'd, Index No. 6819-10, Sup. Ct., Albany Co., [McGrath, J.], Jan. 14, 2011).

Therefore, as there is no further relief that may be granted, the appeal is dismissed as moot.  In light of this disposition, I need not consider the parties’ remaining contentions.