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IMMEDIATO v. RYE NECK SCH. DIST.

January 19, 1995

DANIEL IMMEDIATO, a minor, by DIANE and EUGENE IMMEDIATO, as Guardians, and in their own right, et al., Plaintiffs, against RYE NECK SCHOOL DISTRICT; KATHLEEN D. GULOTTA, FRANK SPEDAFINO, BEATRICE CERASOLI, ALAN MANOCHERIAN, JANICE K. ANDERSON, LIZ PERELSTEIN, in their official capacities as members of the Rye Neck School District Board of Education; and PETER J. MUSTICH, in his official capacity as Superintendent of Rye Neck School District, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES L. BRIEANT

 Brieant, J.

 Plaintiffs, Daniel Immediato, a Rye Neck high school student and resident of Mamaroneck, New York in this district, together with his parents, Diane and Eugene Immediato, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the constitutionality of a mandatory community service program ("the Program"), described below, established by Defendants Rye Neck School District and Board of Education. Plaintiffs contend that the Program violates the students' rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the parents' rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

 Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, all parties move for summary judgment. An amicus brief in support of Defendants was filed by the American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities, a national public interest group with experience in the area of community service programs.

 The facts set forth below are conceded to be true, or assumed to be true for purposes of these motions.

 Defendant Rye Neck School District is a Union Free School District established by the resident electors pursuant to New York State Education Law. It operates a high school, located in Mamaroneck, New York, which has a current enrollment of 278 students, grades 9 through 12. In 1990 the Rye Neck Board of Education, consisting of members elected by the parents and residents of the district, expressly voted to establish a mandatory community service program in the high school. Commencing with the graduating class of 1992, students in grades 9 through 12 would be required to perform 40 hours of "community service" during the four high school years as a condition of graduation ("the Program").

 Students may not receive pay for their services. The required service must be performed "with people in need -- people who are poor, homeless, handicapped, or in need of education, supervision, or companionship." Exh. C-1 to Joint Statement of Material Facts. Students may work with not-for-profit corporations, sectarian and non-sectarian charities, public agencies or political organizations. Many organizations request service through announcements and bulletins posted at school. Students may suggest other agencies or organizations for which to perform service, but the nature of such service must be pre-approved by the school coordinators of the Program in order for students to gain credit for their work.

 Half of the required 40 hours can be provided in the form of voluntary service to the Rye Neck School District or to younger students within the District during the school day. A minimum of twenty hours of service, however, must be performed outside the high school.

 Students may perform the service at any time during the four high school years, including during the summer. Students may establish their own work schedule by agreement with the recipient agencies or organizations. Any training or necessary supervision of the students is provided by the agencies or organizations, not by the school personnel. After the service is completed, the students must submit to the school verified time sheets which document the number of hours worked.

 As part of a required senior year classroom course entitled, "Managing Your Future," all students must complete a questionnaire/form asking "where, when, and what" they did, what they gained from the service, and whether there was "any career connection." Exh. B to Joint Statement of Material Facts. Also as a part of the required course, students discuss in the classroom with the teacher and their fellow students where they performed their service, the type of work they did, and what they gained from their experience. Students are not required to disclose why they selected the particular community service or whether or not they agree with the aims of the particular agency or organization.

 While the course itself is graded Pass-Fail, if the community service hours are not completed, the student will be ineligible for graduation. The Program makes no provision for students or parents who object to mandatory community service and seek to opt out of the Program or to be relieved from its obligations.

 It was disclosed at the hearing before this Court, held on November 10, 1994, that Plaintiffs in this case have not petitioned the Commissioner of Education of New York State for an exemption from the requirement. However, Commissioner Sobol on March 13, 1990, in an administrative appeal from a very similar program having the same title, established in 1987 by the adjoining City of Rye (New York) School District, held that such a program was "not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable" and found affirmatively that it would "benefit students in their post-graduate endeavors" and that other school districts should be "encouraged . . . to pursue this laudable practice." See Appeal of Anne O'Neill, Judicial Decision of the Commissioner No. 12,300 (March 13, 1990); Exhibit to Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment.

 Plaintiff Daniel Immediato is currently a student at Rye Neck High School and subject to the mandatory community service requirement as a condition of graduation. *fn1"

 At the outset, the Court notes the tension between the purposes of majoritarian government and the desires of individuals to live unrestricted by government regulations which appear to them to be worthless, the latter implicating a constitutionally protected liberty interest. These forces clash readily in the area of education, where our nation has enjoyed a long history of encouraging families to take responsibility for the instruction of their own children, while at ...


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