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December 10, 2010

In an appeal to the Commissioner of Education the petitioner has the burden of proof and must establish his or her right to the relief requested

In an appeal to the Commissioner of Education the petitioner has the burden of proof and must establish his or her right to the relief requested
Appeal of Wornum seeking the removal of the Superintendent of the Westbury Union Free School District, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #16,166

Larry D. Wornum, than a member of the School Board, asked the Commissioner of Education to remove Constance R. Clark-Snead from her position of Superintendent of the Westbury Union Free School. The Commissioner denied Wornum’s application.

Wornum alleged that that Clark-Snead had engaged in a pattern of “bad acts” including misleading the School Board on a number of occasions, authorizing School District expenditures without board approval; filing an appeal with the Commissioner of Education without School Board approval; and violating the State's Freedom of Information Law and its Open Meetings Law.

As to Wornum's "application in chief," a member of a board of education or a school officer may be removed from office pursuant to Education Law §306 when it is proven to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the board member or school officer has engaged in a willful violation or neglect of duty under the Education Law or has willfully disobeyed a decision, order, rule or regulation of the Board of Regents or Commissioner of Education.

However, in an appeal to the Commissioner, the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief is placed on the petitioner.

The Commissioner initially addressed a number of procedural issue and determined that:

[1] certain documents submitted by Wornum were not verified as required by 8 NYCRR §275.5(a);

[2] there was no “proof of service’ which precluded his considering such submissions;

[3] he lacked jurisdiction to consider FOIL matters as Public Officers Law §§89 and 107 vest exclusive jurisdiction over complaints alleging violations of FOIL and the Open Meetings Law in State Supreme Court; and

[4] that Wornum’s appeal to the Commissioner was untimely filed with respect to a number of his allegations.

As to Wornum’s surviving allegation – Clark-Snead misled him as to her efforts to secure space for district pre-kindergarten classes – the Commissioner determined that Wornum's allegations "were conclusory" and that Wornum did not provide any documentary evidence to support his charge. Thus, said the Commissioner, Wornum “failed to meet his burden of proof and his claims must be dismissed.”

The Commissioner then addressed Clark-Snead’s request for a Certificate of Good Faith* pursuant to Education Law §3811(1)(c).

Noting that “it is appropriate to issue such Certification unless it is established on the record that [Clark-Snead] had acted in bad faith,” The Commissioner said that as there had been no such finding, Clark-Sneed was entitled to a certificate of good faith.

* A Certificate of Good Faith permit certain school districts or BOCES to reimburse individuals for legal fees and expenses, and where appropriate, damages for which the individual was held liable, incurred in the course of his or her participating in, or resulting from, the individual's appearing in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, including those incurred in, or resulting from, a proceeding before the Commissioner of Education, pursuant to being instructed by a resolution adopted "at a district meeting to defend any action brought against them."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume50/d16166.htm


Other recent decisions of the Commissioner of Education:

Appeal of ARK COMMUNITY CHARTER SCHOOL from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Troy regarding nursing services. Posted at:
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume50/d16169.htm

Appeal of SUSAN ROTH from action of the Board of Education of the South Country Central School District, Montauk Bus Transportation, LLC and Coastal Charter Service Corp. regarding transportation contracts. Posted at:
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume50/d16171.htm

Appeal of N.C., on behalf of her daughter V.C., from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding immunization. Posted at:
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume50/d16172.htm

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