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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Members of the public are deemed to have knowledge of an agency’s administrative action that has been posted on the Internet


Members of the public are deemed to have knowledge of an agency’s administrative action that has been posted on the Internet 
Eskridge v Nassau County BOCES, Decisions of the Commissioner Education, Decision No. 16,932

Meredith Eskridge appealed the decision of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services of Nassau County [BOCES] denial of her request to be placed on the preferred eligibility list for a position as a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing. 

Earlier BOCES had advised Eskridge that the Bethpage Union Free School District was “taking back” the program of hearing impaired services and that “her seniority, tenure and sick days would move with her.” Bethpage appointed Eskridge with tenure in the special subject tenure area of Education of Deaf Children effective October 12, 2011.  On August 25, 2011, Bethpage appointed Eskridge as a teacher in the general special education tenure area, subject to the satisfactory completion of a two year probationary period.

On January 3, 2012, BOCES appointed Amanda Pirolo to the position of Teacher-Deaf and Hard of Hearing - Hearing and Vision Services-Special Education Program.

Bethpage terminated Eskridge’s .4 probationary appointment in the special education tenure area effective February 28, 2012, thereby reducing her employment with the district to a .6 tenured part time position in the special subject tenure area of education of deaf children. 

Eskridge challenged BOCES decision not to placing her name the preferred list by initiating an Article 78 proceeding in Nassau County Supreme Court. She contended that BOCES had violated Education Law §3014-b by failing to place her on the preferred eligibility list and failing recall her to a position as teacher of the deaf in its “Deaf  and Hard of Hearing-Hearing and Vision Services-Special Education” Program.  The court dismissed her petition on jurisdictional grounds and referred the matter petition to the Commissioner of Education for determination. The Commissioner assumed jurisdiction.

In response to Eskridge’s allegations Bethpage argued that:

  1. Eskridge failed to properly serve Amanda Pirolo with a copy of her petition; 
  2. Pirolo’s name should be removed from the petition because she has not been employed by BOCES as a teacher of the deaf since 2012;
  3. Eskridge failed to name the current holder of the position, Paula Hastings, in the caption of her appeal and therefore she has failed to join necessary parties;
  4. Eskridge’s appeal was untimely; and
  5. Eskridge “failed to state a claim.”
Addressing the issue to timeliness, the Commissioner ruled Eskridge’s petition was timely, explaining that “[a]n unsuccessful attempt to litigate a dispute in court which does not result in a final determination on the merits may be accepted as an excuse for failing to file a timely appeal to the Commissioner, when the appeal is commenced within 30 days of receipt of the [court’s] determination.”

Ultimately many of the technical defects in Eskridge's appeal were cured consistent with the advisory given to Eskridge by the Commissioner’s Office of Counsel that “if the corrected version was served and filed within two weeks of July 3, 2012, the appeal would be deemed to have been initiated on the day a copy of the returned petition was personally served upon respondents.” Eskridge complied and as the original petition was served on the BOCE respondents within 30 days of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Commissioner deemed the appeal timely.

Pirolo’s answer stated that she has not been employed by BOCES as a teacher of the deaf since June 2012 and that Paula Hastings was appointed by BOCES to such a position on or about October 23, 2012. Accordingly, the Commissioner ruled that with respect to Pirolo was moot.

However, said the Commissioner, Eskridge’s appeal with respect to BOCES’s refusal to add her name to the preferred list was not moot but Eskridge’s appeal was dismissed “for failure to join a necessary party.”*

In response to a request from the Commissioner’s Office of Counsel, BOCES had provided a copy of the minutes from the BOCES October 23, 2012 board meeting. The minutes reported that Hastings was appointed to the position effective October 15, 2012. The Commissioner said that Eskridge’s contention that she was not aware of Hastings’ appointment was unpersuasive as the relevant information was reflected in the Board’s minutes and “publicly available on BOCES’s website.”** 

Dismissing Eskridge’s appeal regarding BOCES appointment of Hastings as untimely, the Commissioner explained that “this appeal was commenced in July 2013, more than eight months after Hastings was appointed and Pirolo was no longer serving in the position at that time. As Hastings would be adversely affected by a determination in favor of Eskridge, the Commissioner held that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join Hastings as a necessary party. 

Observation: Assuming, but not deciding, that Eskridge accepted a full-time position with the Bethpage Union Free School District, the precedent followed in such situations is that upon acceptance of a full-time position with a School District in compliance with Education Law §3014-b, the individual does not have a right to remain on a preferred eligible list at BOCES. In earlier Decisions of the Commissioner it was held that Education Law §§2510 and 3013 are designed to protect the rights of teachers whose positions are abolished generally. In contrast, Education Law §3014-b is intended to protect the rights of BOCES teachers whose positions are eliminated specifically because of program takebacks. When a teacher is excessed because of a BOCES program takeback, §3014-b(1) provides that " . . . each teacher employed in such a program by such a board of cooperative educational services at the time of such takeover by the school district shall be considered an employee of such school district, with the same tenure status he [or she] maintained in such board of cooperative educational services." 

* A necessary party is a party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in the petitioner's favor, here Paula Hastings.

**A footnote in the Commissioner’s decision provides a link to the BOCES “Agenda for the Regular Meeting of Tuesday, October 23, 2012” which sets out on page 69 of a “BOCES packet” a reference to a personnel action involving Hastings. See


The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume56/d16932

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