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Decision No. 18,020

Appeal of MICHAEL DIANA and ISABEL DIANA, on behalf of their children, from action of the Board of Education of the Oceanside Union Free School District regarding attendance zones.

Decision No. 18,020

(July 26, 2021)

Sahn Ward Coschignano, PLLC, attorneys for petitioner, Robert A. Abiuso, Esq., of counsel

Frazer & Feldman, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Christie R. Jacobson, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal a determination of the Board of Education of the Oceanside Union Free School District (“respondent”), which denied a request for their children (“the students”) to attend a school outside of the attendance zone in which they reside.  The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners and their children lived in respondent’s district at all times relevant to this appeal.  On May 21, 2020, petitioner Michael Diana sent an email informing respondent’s assistant superintendent for business operations that petitioners and the students had relocated to a new residence within the district.  The new address is located within the attendance zone of a different elementary school (“School 2”) than the one the students previously attended (“School 1”).

By email dated May 28, 2019, the assistant superintendent for business and operations indicated that, although district policy would permit the students to finish the current school year in School 1, they would need to register for School 2 for the following school year (2020-2021).  

On July 17, 2020, petitioners appealed this decision to the superintendent.  Petitioners argued that respondent should allow the students to attend School 2 due to the “stress and anxiety” caused by the move and the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a letter dated July 31, 2020, the superintendent declined to allow the students to attend School 2 for the 2020-2021 school year.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioners’ request for interim relief was denied on September 4, 2020.

Petitioners argue that, their residence within the attendance zone for School 2 notwithstanding, the students should be allowed to attend School 1.  Petitioners assert that they were forced to sell their home due to economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that attending School 1 would be in the students’ best interests.  Petitioners seek a determination that the students are eligible to attend School 2 for the 2020-2021 school year.

Respondent contends that petitioners have no legal right to attend School 1 and that it reasonably applied board policy in denying petitioners’ request below.

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 that no longer exists due to the passage of time or a change in circumstances (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; see Matter of Hearst Corp. v Clyne, 50 NY2d 707, 714 [1980]).  Where the Commissioner can no longer award a petitioner meaningful relief on his or her claims, no live controversy remains and the appeal must be dismissed (Appeal of R.B., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,394; Appeal of N.C., 40 id. 445, Decision No. 14,522).  Here, petitioners’ request for relief is limited to the 2020-2021 school year, which has ended.  Therefore, no meaningful relief may be awarded at this juncture and the appeal must be dismissed as moot (see, e.g., Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 60 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,970; Appeal of Szczepanski, 60 id., Decision No. 17,940).

Even if the appeal presented a live controversy, it would be dismissed.  A board of education has the authority and responsibility to manage and administer the affairs of the school district, including the assignment of pupils to schools therein (Education Law §§ 1709 [3] and [33], 1804 [1], 1805). In such cases, a board's discretion is broad and a board's decision will only be overturned when found to be arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to sound educational policy (Matter of Older et al. v Bd. of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1, Town of Mamaroneck, 27 NY2d 333 [1971]; Appeal of B.K.V., 58 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,577; Appeal of Mohabir, 54 id., Decision No. 16,693).

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884).

Here, petitioners do not challenge respondent’s ability to designate attendance zones for its elementary schools or any other aspect of such zones; neither do they argue that respondent’s policy 3113 is invalid or was not followed.  Indeed, the record supports a finding that respondent assigned the students to their new attendance zone in accordance with respondent’s policy 3113.  The policy reads, in relevant part,

[i]f a student has moved from one section of Oceanside to another section of Oceanside after beginning grades K, 1, 2, 3, and 4, the child may stay and finish that year in the school he/she is in if the parent asks permission from the assistant superintendent for business and agrees to provide their own transportation.  The following year, the youngster must go to the new elementary school.

The students were in grade four at the time of their relocation.[1]  Thus, in accordance with policy 3113, respondent considered (and granted) petitioners’ request for the students to finish grade four at School 1 for the 2019-2020 school year.  Thereafter, the students were required to attend School 2, the elementary school that serves the attendance zone in which they reside.

I am sympathetic to petitioners’ concerns regarding the psychological challenges associated with relocating to a new school.  However, the fact that the students may have difficulty adjusting to a new school, while regrettable, is not a basis for overturning respondent’s decision (Appeal of Mohabir, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,693; Appeal of Sponcy, 33 id. 126, Decision No. 12,998; Appeal of Cullen, 32 id. 179, Decision No. 12,798).




[1] The policy contains provisions concerning students who relocate after they have begun fifth or sixth grade which are inapplicable under the facts of this appeal.