September 05, 2017

Appeals to the Commissioner of Education seeking to remove members of a Board of Education for alleged misconduct or alleged neglect of duty

Appeals to the Commissioner of Education seeking to remove members of a Board of Education for alleged misconduct or alleged neglect of duty
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,160
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,164

In Decision 17,160, Matter of the Board of Education of the Lindenhurst Union Free School District, the Petitioners alleged that the Board of Education had committed certain “special education violations” constituting a willful violation or neglect of duty under the Education Law and sought their removal from certain members from the Board.

The Board of Education of the Hempstead Union Free School District appeal, Decision No. 17,164, concerned Petitioners seeking the removal of certain board members for alleged acts of misconduct, abuse of power and abuse of public office and the conduct of the board with respect to interviewing of candidates for the position of superintendent of schools. 

The Commissioner dismissed both applications for failure to comply with procedural and  other essential requirements.

The Lindenhurst Appeal
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,160

In Lindenhurst the Commissioner found a number procedural errors and omissions on the part of the Petitioners requiring the dismissal of their appeal including:

1. The Petitioners failed to comply with the requirements of sub-divisions 5 and 6 of §275 of the Commissioner's regulations [8 NYCRR 275]. These provisions required that "all pleadings in an appeal to the Commissioner be verified and that an affidavit of verification be attached thereto" because "Petitioners' reply is not verified as required by §§275.5 and 275.6." When an individual verifies a document, he or she is swearing or acknowledging under penalty of perjury that the facts contained in the document are all true.

2. The Petitioners' application was defective because it failed to name and serve necessary parties. A necessary party is an individual or entity whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of the matter in favor of a petitioner.

3. The Petitioners' notice of petition was fatally defective as §277.1(b) of the Commissioner’s regulations requires that the notice of petition specifically advise a respondent that an application is being made for respondent’s removal from office pursuant to Education Law §306. Petitioners used the notice prescribed under §275.11(a) for appeals brought pursuant to Education Law §310.

4. The Petitioners' appeal was untimely filed. An untimely appeal to the Commissioner of Education is one that was not commenced within 30 days from the making of the decision, or the performance of the act or omission complained of, unless such delay is excused by the Commissioner "for good cause shown."

The Commissioner then observed that "Even if the application were not subject to dismissal on procedural grounds, it would be dismissed on the merits, explaining that "a member of the 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" and the petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief .

On this record, in the words of the Commissioner, Petitioners "have not proven any willful violation or neglect of duty under the Education Law which would warrant removal of the individual respondents from office." Although it has long been held that "that impolite, rude or even aggressive speech is not, by itself, enough to warrant removal ... a single isolated instance of inappropriate or unbecoming speech by a board member is not ordinarily grounds for removal."

However, concluded the Commissioner, while Petitioners failed to proved sufficient grounds for respondents’ removal. the school board is reminded that district residents "have the right to attend board of education meetings and speak about issues of concern, including their views regarding the performance of district staff."

Although the Board contended that one of the Petitioners “repeatedly and unfairly leveled personal insults and accusations” against a school administrator, it does not appear from the record that her comments warranted responses as heated as a respondent's statements that petitioner should be “ashamed” of herself, and that she “embarrassed” herself and reminded the Board members involved that they should "comport [them]selves in the future in a manner befitting holder[s] of public office.”

The Hempstead Union Free School District Appeal
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,164

The Petitioners in this appeal sought a temporary restraining order [TRO] in Supreme Court ex parte* barring the holding a meeting of the Hempstead UFSD Board of Education at the offices of the district’s labor attorney, located outside the school district’s geographic boundaries, would Petitioners contended would be in violation of the Open Meetings Law. The court granted the TRO was granted. 

Contending that certain board members proceeded to hold the meeting in violation of the court-ordered TRO and the Open Meetings Law, Petitioners filed an appeal with the Commissioner and sought "interim relief, in which they sought to restrain the board from taking any actions relating to the interviewing and hiring of a new superintendent of schools pending the outcome of this application and appeal." The Commissioner denied the request for "interim relief."

The Board had asked the Commissioner to dismiss Petitioners' application , contending that [1] the application was untimely, [2] the interim relief requested was moot, [3] Petitioners lack standing to bring this application, and [4] the Petitioners' application must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 

As to the procedural defects allege by the Board of Education, the Commissioner found that with respect to the Petitioners attempt to use certain events as the basis for its removal application, the application was untimely. However, the Commissioner held that the allegations with respect to the alleged violation of the court-ordered TRO and the Open Meetings Law, the Petitioners' application was, in fact timely "with respect to those alleged violations of law," thus surviving the Board of Educations motion to dismiss this aspect of Petitioners' application.

As to the issue of standing to submit the application to the Commissioner, the Commissioner said as the Petitioners are district residents they have standing to bring a removal proceeding against their elected officials pursuant to Education Law §306 and declined to dismiss the petition for lack of standing.

In its request for relief, Petitioners sought a stay restraining the Board of Education from taking any action "related to the interviewing of candidates, deliberations by the board for the selection of a candidate, and possibly the imminent making of an offer of employment to any candidate for the position of superintendent of schools."  The Commissioner had denied the stay, explaining that "only matters in actual controversy will be considered and the Commissioner will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest."

In this instance Commissioner found that the relevant school year has ended and thus the Petitioners’ request that the "board president for the remainder of 2016-2017 school year" was moot.

The Commissioner then dismissed the Petitioners' application related to Board of Education allegedly violating the Open Meetings Law "for lack of jurisdiction," explaining that with respect to Petitioners allegations that the board violated the Open Meetings Law and a TRO issued in a proceeding in State supreme court alleging violations of the Open Meetings Law, Public Officers Law §107 vests exclusive jurisdiction over complaints alleging such violations in the Supreme and alleged violations of such law "may not be adjudicated in an appeal to the Commissioner."

Finally, the Commissioner noted that "[i]t is well-established that the Commissioner will not render an advisory opinion on an issue before it becomes justiciable." Here, said the Commissioner, "On this record, I cannot find that a proper basis for removal has been proven based on the alleged violation of the ex parte TRO" as the TRO involves claims under the Open Meetings Law over which the Commissioner did not have jurisdiction. Further, a TRO is, by its nature, a temporary non-final order and any violation of a TRO  is enforceable through the court’s civil contempt power.

In any event, the Commissioner said that record before her indicated that no meeting was held in violation of the TRO. The Board of Education had contended that the alleged meeting involving an executive session held to interview candidates for the position of superintendent of schools had been initially delayed, and upon being advised by their attorney that the TRO had not been lifted, the meeting was not held and the Board of Education did not conduct any interviews of candidates for the position.
Under these circumstances, and "in the interest of promoting judicial economy," the Commissioner denied Petitioners' application.

* A proceeding before a tribunal is said to be Ex Parte in situations where one or more of the parties involved is not present or is not represented and a decision is made that affects the absent party or parties. Typically the ex parte decision or order is temporary and issued by the tribunal having jurisdiction where time is limited with respect effectively directing or barring the performance of the act or omission in dispute.

The Lindenhurst Union Free School District decision is posted on the Internet at:

The Hempstead Union Free School District decision is posted on the Internet at:


Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.
New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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