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.
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 the same time, making school attendance compulsory and granting control of the curriculum to state and local officials.
The late Honorable Frank C. Moore, who served as Lieutenant Governor of New York, a skilled municipal lawyer and later head of the Office of Local Government of the State of New York, was generally regarded as the guardian and protector of the small units of elected local government in New York. Governor Moore preached that "Home Rule is the right to be misgoverned by our friends and neighbors." The goal of local Home Rule is to allow communities to develop rules and regulations for the management--or mismanagement--of their own affairs, through forms of majority rule existing by the very nature of a republican form of government. An individual may disagree with a particular policy or rule implemented by duly elected local representatives within the scope of the responsibility entrusted to them. Ordinarily, that person must abide by the general law while attempting to persuade others in the community to revise the rule, or to elect new local representatives who will do so.
The United States Supreme Court has recognized the benefits of local responsibility for public education:
One of the peculiar strengths of our form of government [is] each State's freedom to 'serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments.' No area of social concern stands to profit more from a multiplicity of viewpoints and from a diversity of approaches than does public education.
San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 50, 36 L. Ed. 2d 16, 93 S. Ct. 1278 (1973) (Powell, J., quoting in part from the dissent of Justice Brandeis in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 76 L. Ed. 747, 52 S. Ct. 371 (1932)). It is "long recognized that local school boards have broad discretion in the management of school affairs." Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 863, 73 L. Ed. 2d 435, 102 S. Ct. 2799 (1982) (Brennan, J.).
In New York, the Board of Education of a Union Free School District may determine initially whether a particular course or program will be established or discontinued. See New York State Education Law § 1709(3) ("The said board of education of every union free school district shall have power, and it shall be its duty . . . to prescribe the course of study by which the pupils of the schools shall be graded and classified . . . .").
The New York State Commissioner of Education, as the chief executive officer of the state system of education, is empowered to enforce all laws relating to the education system of the state. New York State Education Law § 305. In a Union Free School District, the Commissioner is charged with the general supervision of the board of education, and its management and conduct of all departments of instruction. New York State Education Law § 309. A party aggrieved by the official actions of local school officials, including a board of education, may appeal for relief to the Commissioner of Education, pursuant to New York State Education Law § 310(7). That right to appeal to the Commissioner of Education supplements but does not preclude redress from a court in the proper case where the plaintiffs allege violation of their Constitutional rights. See Plano v. Baker, 504 F.2d 595 (2d Cir. 1974); Jacobson v. Board of Ed. of City of New York, 177 Misc. 809, 31 N.Y.S.2d 725 (Sup. Ct. Kings County 1941), modified on other grounds, 265 A.D. 837, 37 N.Y.S.2d 647 (2d Dept. 1942), appeal denied, 265 A.D. 935, 39 N.Y.S.2d 416 (2d Dept. 1942). Ordinarily the Commissioner does not address Constitutional issues, but he is free to do so.
It is undisputed that the Board of Education of Rye Neck Union Free School District consists of duly elected officials with authority to establish a curriculum for Rye Neck High School. The New York State Department of Education has approved an optional syllabus for a course comprised of community service. See Appeal of Anne O'Neill, Judicial Decision of the Commissioner No. 12,300, at 297. In developing its own curriculum, Defendant Rye Neck Board of Education chose to implement the state syllabus.
Clearly, this Court may grant relief only on a clear showing that as applied, the Program violates the Constitutional rights of these Plaintiffs. We are not concerned here with a possible violation of the Constitutional rights of some other student which might be hypothesized. Nor are we concerned with the wisdom or utility of the Program, which may well seem to some to have Orwellian overtones, or be less useful to the graduates than a foundation course in Latin or English Grammar.
Plaintiffs must show infringement of a specific right secured by the Constitution. We consider first, Plaintiffs' claim that the Thirteenth Amendment has been violated. That Amendment provides:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.