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Friday, March 17, 2017

Prohibiting a patron of a public library from access to the library for violation of the library's Code of Conduct


Prohibiting a patron of a public library from access to the library for violation of the library's Code of Conduct
R.T. v Freeport Memorial Library, Decision of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #17,060

The Freeport Memorial Library[Library] R.T.'s library use privileges were being suspended for a period of one year due to repeated violations of the Library’s Code of Conduct [Code] policy, contending that over a period of eight separate days, R.T. Had violated the Code by using his cellular telephone, speaking in an inappropriate manner to Library staff, and not vacating a computer when directed to at closing time. The letter also noted that R.T. had previously received a one-month suspension for Code violations and advised him that if he were to return to the Library prior to the conclusion of the one-year suspension, he will be deemed a trespasser and the police will be contacted. 

R.T. appealed the determination to Library’s board of trustees. The board dismissed his appeal, observing “that the use of a library 'is a privilege, not a right' and the Library’s board must consider the conduct of one individual in light of how it affects other Library patrons.”  The board's letter also noted that R.T. was “cited in approximately 17 different incidents reported in writing by approximately 12 separate members of the [Library’s] staff.” R.T. appealed the board's decision to the Commissioner, contending that the board's decision was “draconian” and that the allegations that he violated the Code are too vague “as a matter of fact, as a matter of law,” for him to properly respond to, and he specifically notes an alleged failure of the Library to provide him with a “bill of particulars.”

In his defense, R.T. offered alternative explanations for his conduct, such as, having “sensitive files” on the computer at closing time, that he used his cellphone but in areas designated for such use, or that certain Library staff have personal grievances against petitioner. He also argued that the suspension by the Library constitutes a violation of his rights under the United States and New York Constitutions including due process and equal protection.

In constructing her ruling, the Commissioner of Education Elia said that “Education Law §310 states in part that the Commissioner is 'authorized and required to examine and decide' a petition 'made in consequence of any action ... [b]y any trustees of any school library concerning such library, or the books therein, or the use of such books' (emphasis added in the opinion). Accordingly, the Commissioner ruled that R.T.'s appeal of the Library’s one-year suspension of his library use privileges is properly before her.

After dismissing R.T.'s appeal was moot, as the “penalty time” had passed, the Commissioner elected to address the merits of R.T.'s appeal regarding the penalty imposed by the board in view and R.T.'s complaint that “the Library’s determination to suspend his library use privileges for one year was excessive and constituted a penalty against petitioner beyond the scope of authority authorized by law.”

The Commissioner affirmed the board decision, finding that the suspension of R.T.’s library use privileges for various violations of the Library’s Code of Conduct was reasonable under the circumstances, noting that Education Law §262 states, in relevant part, that Every library established under section two hundred fifty-five of this chapter shall be forever free to the inhabitants of the municipality or district or Indian reservation, which establishes it, subject always to rules of the library trustees who shall have authority to exclude any person who wilfully violates such rules . . .  (emphasis added in the Commissioner's decision).

The Commissioner's decision concludes by observing that “On the facts of this case, I cannot find that the Library acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in suspending petitioner’s library privileges. Petitioner engaged in disruptive behavior that violated the Library’s Code on several occasions, despite being put on notice from a prior suspension of privileges that he needed to cease his disruptive behavior.  …. I cannot find that a one-year suspension of library use privileges is excessive considering the numerous Code violations documented against petitioner, the responsibility that respondents have to the other patrons of the Library and to maintain a safe and orderly environment for the Library’s staff and the protection of its property, and that this one-year suspension was not petitioner’s first suspension from use of the Library.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:  
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume56/d17060

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