No. 2019-0397

Dec. 2, 2020

Affirmed.

 

  • The Court reviewed a decision of the New Hampshire State Board of Education overturning the Rye School Board’s denial of a request to reassign a child to a school in another district pursuant to RSA 193:3.

 

Parents of a student on a 504 Plan, created pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 794, applied to the Rye School Board (“School Board”) to reassign their daughter to a new school pursuant to RSA 193:3, I, which states that “[a]ny person having custody of a child may apply to the school board for relief if the person thinks the attendance of the child at the school to which such child has been assigned will result in a manifest educational hardship to the child.” The School Board denied the parents’ request for reassignment, and the parents appealed the School Board’s decision to the New Hampshire State Board of Education (“Board of Education”).

The Board of Education hearings officer found there were still some issues at the new school, the parents did not show a detrimental effect on the student due to attendance at the Rye school, and recommended denial of the appeal. The parents filed an exception to the recommendation with the Board of Education, which held oral argument on the appeal. The Board of Education accepted the hearing officer’s report, but it rejected the recommendation and overturned the School Board’s decision. A rehearing was requested by the Rye School District (“District”) on a number of grounds and was granted only for the purpose of rehearing oral arguments, which had not been recorded in violation of RSA 541-A:31, VIII. The Board of Education reaffirmed its rejection of the hearing officer’s recommendation and overturned the School Board’s denial of the reassignment.

On appeal, the Court first considered whether RSA 541 permits a party to appeal the Board of Education’s findings of manifest educational hardship under RSA 193:3. RSA 541 only permits appeals from certain determinations of administrative agencies. The Court held that stare decisis required a finding that such an appeal is permitted under RSA 541.

The District argued that the Board of Education violated its due process rights, and the Court assumed without deciding that such a challenge as permissible. The Court found that the Board of Education did not make any factual determinations that required a determination of credibility. It also found that the reason for the Board of Education’s rejection of the hearing officer’s recommendation was adequately explained. The Court found that the findings that the District challenged were not factual in nature, but were the conclusions drawn from those facts. As a result, the Court ruled that the Board of Education’s conclusions were supported by the record.

The District also argued that due process was violated because the transcript of the hearing omitted testimony of two of the District’s witnesses, but the Court found the District failed to show actual prejudice. The Court also noted that because the Federal Constitution does not provide the District due process rights beyond those in the State Constitution, Federal Constitutional analysis had the same result.

The District further challenged the Board of Educations findings on the grounds that it violated Rule 212.02(b) when it held an evidentiary hearing instead of a 10-minute oral argument. The Court ruled that the District failed to show evidence that the rehearing, where the oral arguments were conducted, had not cured that defect. It also ordered that an argument based on the District not being permitted to cross-examine witnesses in the original hearing was not preserved.

The Court also assumed for the purposes of the appeal that the only applicable policy for determining manifest educational hardship at the time was the District’s local board policy. Finally, the Court ruled that the Board of Education had not violated RSA 541-A:35 when it accepted the hearing officer’s rulings on each of the District’s requested findings of facts rather than redundantly issuing rulings on each the District’s findings of fact itself. After finding the District failed to the show the decision was clearly unreasonable or unlawful, the Court affirmed the Board of Education’s decision.

 

Barbara F. Loughman, Soule, Leslie, Kidder, Sayward & Loughman, Wolfeboro, for the Rye School District. Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Laura E. B. Lombardi, senior assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally, and Jill A. Perlow, senior assistant attorney general, on the brief), for the New Hampshire State Board of Education.