Skip to main content

Decision No. 18,414

Appeals of V. F.-G., on behalf of her child, from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Ithaca regarding a denial of access to school property.

Decision No. 18,414

(June 3, 2024)

          Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, attorneys for respondent, Kate I. Reid, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--In two separate appeals, petitioner appeals from restrictions imposed by the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Ithaca (“respondent”) concerning her ability to contact respondent and access its facilities.  Because the appeals arise out of similar facts and present similar issues of law, they are consolidated for decision (8 NYCRR 275.18).  The appeals must be dismissed.

At all times relevant to this appeal, petitioner’s child (the “student”) attended seventh grade at one of respondent’s middle schools.  By letter dated September 4, 2023, respondent restricted petitioner’s communications with district staff and visitation pursuant to its code of conduct.  Respondent indicated that, “over the course of the past several years,” petitioner’s communications with the district had become “excessive, aggressive, [and] accusatory,” resulting in “staff spending an overwhelming amount of time engaging” with petitioner.  Accordingly, respondent limited petitioner’s communications with district staff to a weekly email with the deputy superintendent.  Respondent further prohibited petitioner from entering onto district property without written permission, subject to medical emergencies or pick up/drop off.  Respondent warned petitioner that any noncompliance with these directives could result in further restrictions.  The first appeal ensued.

Thereafter, petitioner exceeded the conditions imposed upon her email communications with district staff.  Additionally, on October 5, 2023, petitioner arrived at the middle school without prior authorization and, according to respondent, “refused to leave when directed to do so.”  In response, respondent indicated that it would contact law enforcement if petitioner again violated its directives.

On November 8, 2023, petitioner and the student entered respondent’s property for a school-sponsored event.  Petitioner had not obtained permission from the deputy superintendent prior to attending and was asked to leave by a staff member.  After petitioner refused, respondent called 911 and petitioner was escorted from the premises.  The second appeal ensued.

Petitioner contends, among other things, that the September 2023 letter restrictions are retaliatory and impair the student’s right to a public education.  Petitioner seeks removal of these restrictions.  Petitioner additionally challenges the placement recommendation of respondent’s Committee on Special Education (“CSE”), arguing that the student should instead attend a program operated by her Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).

Respondent argues that the appeals should be dismissed for lack of the notice required by 8 NYCRR 275.11.  Respondent further contends that the appeals should be dismissed because the September 2023 property and communication restrictions were reasonable in light of petitioner’s behavior, and that petitioner’s challenge to the CSE’s recommendation should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. 

First, I must address respondent’s procedural challenge.  Respondent asserts that the appeals should be dismissed for lack of the notice required by 8 NYCRR 275.11 (a).  Although the petitions do not contain the requisite notice, section 275.11 of the Commissioner’s regulations provides that such a failure does not warrant dismissal of an appeal.  Moreover, the record in both appeals establishes that, despite the absence of such language, respondent was aware of its obligation to respond and did so in a timely manner.  Accordingly, I decline to dismiss the appeals on this basis.

Next, to the extent petitioner challenges the recommendation of respondent’s CSE, these claims must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.  The record reflects that, at the time of the events described herein, the student received services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Claims brought to enforce rights under the IDEA must be addressed through the due process provisions of the IDEA (20 USC § 1415), Education Law § 4404, and section 200.5 (j) of the Commissioner’s regulations; such claims may not be addressed in an appeal brought pursuant to Education Law § 310 (Appeal of C.B., 62 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,238; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 52 id., Decision No. 16,375; Appeal of S.A.M., 44 id. 481, Decision No. 15,238).

Turning to the merits, school boards may impose reasonable restrictions on individuals’ communications with school employees or access to school property (Appeal of C.W., 62 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,253; Appeal of Brockway, 62 id., Decision No. 18,218; Appeal of Anonymous, 48 id. 503, Decision No. 15,931).  A school board’s determination in this regard will only be reversed if it is arbitrary or capricious (Appeal of R.G., 62 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,196; Matter of Spinowitz, 18 id. 13, Decision No. 9,719).

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). 

Section 5300.70 of respondent’s code of conduct governs the behavior of visitors on school property.  This section states that visitors may not “[d]isrupt the orderly conduct of classes, school programs or other school activities”; “[i]ntimidate or harass any person”; or “[e]nter any portion of the school premises without authorization.”  Failure to follow these rules may result in a ban from school district property.

The record establishes a long history of petitioner’s escalating violations of respondent’s code of conduct, which culminated in the restrictions in the September 2023 letter.  Respondent initially prohibited petitioner’s access to district facilities following a verbal altercation between petitioner and respondent’s staff in July 2022.  During this altercation, petitioner raised her voice numerous times, pointed her finger at staff members, and loudly told respondent’s staff to “get it together” among other statements.  As a result, respondent prohibited petitioner from accessing respondent’s facilities for the remainder of the summer school term.  

The frequency and disruptiveness of petitioner’s emails to respondent increased after July 2022.  Specifically, petitioner sent frequent emails that accused respondent’s employees of “traumatiz[ing]” and “endanger[ing]” her and the student; encouraging children into “manipulating” their parents; and ignoring her concerns about accommodations for the student and other children with disabilities.  Thus, respondent imposed further restrictions in letters dated September 6, 2022 and January 23, 2023.  These included establishing a point of contact for petitioner’s correspondence and prohibiting petitioner from accessing respondent’s facilities without prior written permission. 

Neither of these restrictions curbed petitioner’s harassing communications.  Petitioner continued to send respondent frequent emails accusing its employees of “kidnapping,” “trafficking,” and “abusing” children.  As a result thereof, respondent imposed the September 2023 communication restrictions at issue in these appeals.

I find that respondent’s property restrictions were “reasonably and narrowly limited in scope” based on petitioner’s persistent, intentional violations of district policy 5300.70 and the directives issued in connection therewith (Appeal of Anonymous, 48 Ed Dept Rep 503, Decision No. 15,931).  I further find that respondent imposed reasonable time and manner restrictions on petitioner’s ability to communicate with school officials given the numerous, inflammatory emails sent over the past several years (compare Appeal of Brockway, 62 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,218 [total prohibition on individual’s communication with a superintendent that did not adequately consider the “form, intended audience, or content” of his communications held inconsistent with the First Amendment]).  Accordingly, I cannot conclude that respondent’s determination was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.

I have reviewed the parties’ remaining contentions and have found them to be without merit.