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Decision No. 17,986

Appeal of WILLIAM KING MOSS III from action of the Board of Education of the Brentwood Union Free School District regarding a personnel matter.

Decision No. 17,986

(April 22, 2021)

Ingerman Smith LLP, attorneys for respondent Brentwood Union Free School District, Neil M. Block, Esq., of counsel

Robert T. Reilly, Esq., New York State United Teachers, attorneys for respondent Kevin Coyne, Gregory M. Ainsley, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from actions of the Board of Education of the Brentwood Union Free School District (“respondent board”) and Kevin Coyne as President of the Brentwood Teacher’s Association (“BTA”) concerning the district’s hiring process.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner contends that an April 21, 2020 newsletter emailed from respondent Coyne to BTA members contained a veiled reference to petitioner and his civil rights advocacy.  The text of the newsletter expressed regret that “political pieces” were added to a post “sent out via district email.”  Though not entirely clear from the record, it appears that the phrase “political pieces” was a hyperlink that, when clicked, directed users to a webpage entitled “Brentwood School District Further Substantiated by March Information.”  This webpage, in turn, identified petitioner in his capacity as president of a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In August 2020, respondent board interviewed candidates to fill two elementary school principal positions.  Petitioner and Ms. Ana Martinez were interviewed for these positions on August 4, 2020; respondent Coyne served on the interview committee for both candidates.

On August 29, 2020, respondent Coyne sent another newsletter via email to BTA members.  In the email, he stated the following:

Some of our buildings still don’t even have a principal assigned to them[.] Another power play by the BOE majority ... to disregard the interview process and the recommendations of central administration and the Superintendent!  Once again looking to deny one of our own ... highly qualified administrators an opportunity to lead ... so they can appoint a friend from the outside (Anna Martinez former BOE President) with limited qualifications.

In the letter, respondent Coyne also explained that he was “working with [Human Resources] to review [all] certifications of [excessed teachers] who remain on the list to see if they can be offered an open position in the district utilizing any of the other certifications they hold.”  This appeal ensued.   

Petitioner generally argues that respondents engaged in unlawful discrimination.  Petitioner further contends that respondent Coyne defamed Ana Martinez and interfered with the interview process when he referred to her in the August 29, 2020 newsletter.  Petitioner additionally claims that respondent Coyne defamed him when he referred to petitioner in the April 21, 2020 newsletter.  Petitioner also posits that respondent Coyne cannot serve as a teacher in respondent board’s district because he did not take the oath to support the federal and State constitutions required by Education Law § 3002.  For relief, petitioner requests that respondent Coyne:  (1) be “remove[d] ... from his teaching position”; (2) be directed to comply with State law and district policies; and (3) be “ban[ned] from participating in the hiring of [district] personnel.”

Respondent board argues that the appeal is subject to dismissal on numerous procedural grounds.  On the merits, respondent board contends that “[p]etitioner does not allege any wrongdoing by the School District and does not seek any relief as against the District.”       

Respondent Coyne argues that the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction over him as petitioner’s allegations each relate to alleged actions he took in his role as the president of the BTA.

The petition must be dismissed, in large part, for lack of jurisdiction.  All but one of petitioner’s requests for relief are directed toward respondent Coyne in his capacity as president of the BTA.  It is well settled that union organizations and their representatives are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Education under Education Law § 310 (e.g. Appeal of Moss, 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,861; Appeal of Parker, 56 id., Decision No. 17,054; Appeal of Hoefer, 41 id. 203, Decision No. 14,664).  Therefore, the allegations directed at respondent Coyne as BTA president must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Petitioner’s remaining allegations must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.  A petition must contain “a clear and concise statement of the petitioner’s claim showing that the petitioner is entitled to relief, and shall further contain a demand for the relief to which the petitioner deems himself/herself entitled” (8 NYCRR 275.10).  Such statement must be “sufficiently clear” to advise the respondent of the nature of the petitioner’s claim and of the specific act or acts of which the petitioner complains (id.).  Where the petitioner is not represented by counsel, the Commissioner will interpret this regulation liberally, absent prejudice to the opposing party (Appeal of D.B., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,244; Appeal of Stieffenhofer, 48 id. 231, Decision No. 15,846).  Nevertheless, where a petition fails to state a comprehensible claim and fails to identify the specific remedy sought, the appeal must be dismissed (see Appeal of C.P., 55 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,784; Appeal of Stepien, 48 id. 487, Decision No. 15,926).  Although petitioner alleges, for example, that respondent board gives “leave replacement teachers probationary positions without a competitive process” and that respondents engaged in unlawful discrimination or defamation, he seeks no relief on the basis of these claims.  Therefore, these claims must be dismissed (see Appeal of Griffin, 60 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,942; Appeal of Cea, 58 id., Decision No. 17,482; Appeal of Prusak, 54 id., Decision No. 16,659).[1]

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




[1] I further note, as respondents argue, that many of these claims would be subject to dismissal on other grounds, including as untimely; for lack of standing; or as outside the jurisdiction of the Commissioner in an appeal pursuant to Education Law § 310.