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Decision No. 18,270

Appeal of D.G.D. and J.D., on behalf of their child, from action of the Board of Education of the Lakeland Central School District regarding class ranking.

Decision No. 18,270

(May 9, 2023)

Barger & Gaines, attorneys for petitioner, Paul N. Barger, Esq., of counsel

Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Margo L. May, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the determination of the Board of Education of the Lakeland Central School District (“respondent”) regarding their child’s (the “student”) class rank.  The appeal must be dismissed.

The student is a senior at one of respondent’s high schools.  According to respondent’s “academic recognition” policy (the “policy”), the designations of class valedictorian and salutatorian are “calculate[ed] ... based on ... all credited courses through the end of the last marking period of junior year.”  In calculating a student’s final grade, certain courses are afforded additional weight in calculating students’ grade point averages.  Specifically, students receive an additional four points to their final grades in “[a]ll courses that are designated as honors and/or qualify for an academic articulation agreement with a college or university” and an additional five points in “[a]ll courses that conclude [] with an Advanced Placement examination ....”

In September 2022, respondent calculated its seniors’ class rank in accordance with the above formula.  The student was ranked second and, thus, awarded the honor of salutatorian.  Disappointed by this outcome, petitioners requested that respondent modify its policy of awarding additional points to honors, college level, or Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  Respondent declined to do so; this appeal ensued.  Petitioners’ request for interim relief was denied on December 29, 2022.

Petitioners argue that the weighted system of calculating class rank is unfair and unreasonable.  As evidence, they assert that the student has taken more AP classes than the valedictorian and received a score of 100 in each one.  They argue that respondent’s policy “disincentivizes” students from taking elective classes that do not receive the four- or five-point supplement.  For relief, they ask that the student be named valedictorian.

Respondent asserts that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party.  On the merits, respondent argues that petitioners have failed to demonstrate a clear legal right to the relief requested.

The appeal must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party.  A person or entity whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such.  Joinder requires that a party be clearly named in the caption of the appeal and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition (Appeal of Sutton, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,331; Appeal of Murray, 48 id. 517, Decision No. 15,934). 

The valedictorian would be affected by awarding petitioners the relief they seek.  While petitioners assert that they would be amenable to their child sharing the honor of valedictorian, that is for the current valedictorian, not petitioners, to decide (Appeal of D.S., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,770 [parents of co-valedictorian appealed such determination, alleging that their child should be the sole valedictorian]).  Therefore, the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party (Appeal of D.S., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,770; Appeal of T.A. and J.A., 54 id., Decision No. 16,781).

Even if the appeal were not dismissed on procedural grounds, it would be dismissed on the merits.  Boards of education may determine the method by which they determine class rank so long as it is reasonable (Appeal of T.A. and J.A., 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,781; Appeal of Gordinier, 52 id., Decision No. 16,433; Appeal of Gilewicz, 47 id., 493, Decision No. 15,764).

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, respondent’s policy, which predates the student’s entry into high school,[1] awards additional points to students’ grades in honors, college level, and AP courses.  Respondent explains that it does so to reflect the academic rigor of such courses (see Appeal of T.A. and J.A., 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,781 [dismissing appeal on procedural grounds but opining that a policy that “weighted (courses) according to difficulty, with (AP) courses receiving greater weight than non-AP courses” was reasonable]).  Petitioners present no evidence to the contrary, arguing instead that the policy unfairly incentivizes students to take honors, college level, or AP courses.  Whatever the merits of this argument, the relevant test is whether respondent’s policy has a rational basis and is applied uniformly—which it has shown.  I therefore decline to substitute my judgment for that of respondent.




[1] The record reflects that the policy was adopted in September 2001 and last revised in November 2013.