New York State School Boards Association

Commissioner upholds change in district’s attendance zone policy

by Adam C. Hover

On Board Online • February 25, 2013

By Adam C. Hover

In a recent decision, the commissioner of education upheld a school board’s decision to change its practice of allowing elementary school students to attend the elementary school located within their childcare provider’s attendance zone.

Generally, students attend school located within the attendance zone in which they legally reside. The change allowed students already enrolled in an out-of-zone elementary school to complete their elementary education at such schools subject to certain conditions, but students not yet enrolled in an out-of-zone school were prevented from doing so.

According to the commissioner in Appeal of Jones, school boards have broad authority to assign students to school within their district and determine which school students will attend. The commissioner will not overturn such decisions unless they are arbitrary, capricious or contrary to sound educational policy.

A group of parents challenged the school board’s decision arguing, in part, that the board’s action constituted a policy change that was not implemented in accordance with the board’s policy-making procedures. The district, on the other hand, characterized its action as a change in practice  based on financial and logistical concerns.

Even assuming the parents were right about the board ignoring policy-making procedures, such a failure alone would not constitute grounds for overturning the board’s decision, the commissioner said. He said he would intervene in such a case only if the district’s actions were arbitrary and capricious.

The parents’ challenge was prompted by their concerns that the board’s actions would result in financial and logistical hardships for them because previously the board had provided transportation between the childcare provider and the school their children attended. However, as the commissioner explained, school boards do not have to provide transportation to and from child care providers.

Moreover, districts that  choose to provide such transportation can  restrict it, with limited exceptions, to childcare locations within the attendance zone of the school that the child legally attends. While sympathetic to the parent’s plight, the commissioner restated that “hardship or inconvenience does not create an entitlement to such transportation.”

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