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August 03, 2010

The statute of limitations for filing an appeal commences to run on date the individual knew, or should have known, of the event or omission

The statute of limitations for filing an appeal commences to run on date the individual knew, or should have known, of the event or omission
William R. Hayes v The Board of Education of the Saugerties Central School District, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 16,094

A board member read aloud an anonymous letter in which district employees were criticized at a public board meeting held by the Saugerties Central School District on December 8, 2009. William R. Hayes, who was present at the meeting, asked for a copy of the letter on December 18, 2009. He received the requested copy on January 22, 2010.

Contending that the anonymous letter was disrespectful to teachers and contrary to the Board’s code of ethics and Education Law §1709(18), Hayes filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education seeking [1] a letter of apology from the School Board to the teaching staff for reading the letter, and [2] the Board's agreement not to read anonymous letters in a public forum in the future. In the alternative, Hayes asked to Commissioner to “chastise” the Board for its alleged unethical behavior.

The Board asked the Commissioner to dismiss the appeal for a number of reasons, including its representation that the appeal is untimely. The Commissioner agreed that Hayes' appeal was untimely and dismissed it.

Noting that an appeal to the Commissioner must be commenced "within 30 days from the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of, unless any delay is excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown,” the Commissioner explained that the anonymous letter was read at a Board meeting held on December 8, 2009 and Hayes did not file his appeal until January 26, 2010, more than 30 days later.

As the appeal related solely to the Board’s actions on December 8, 2009, the Commissioner ruled that Hayes’ “belated receipt of a copy of the letter does not excuse his delay” in view of the fact that he was present at the December 8 meeting of the Board and "personally heard and observed the alleged misconduct at that time."

The decision demonstrates the general rule that a statute of limitations for filing an appeal with the Commissioner is measured from the date on which the individual knew, or should have known, of the alleged offending event or omission.

Another frequent basis for the Commissioner rejecting an appeal – the failure of the appellant to name and serve a necessary party, i.e., an individual that may be adversely affected were the Commissioner to sustain the appeal, as illustrated in recent decisions by the Commissioner. See, for example, http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2010/07/appeal-to-commissioner-of-education.html .

The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume50/d16094.htm

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