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Finstein v. East Greenwich School Committee

Superior Court of Rhode Island

April 29, 2014

NATHAN FINSTEIN
v.
EAST GREENWICH SCHOOL COMMITTEE

Kent County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Nathan Finstein, Pro Se

For Defendant: Raymond A. Marcaccio, Esq.; Peter F. Spencer, Esq.

DECISION

RUBINE, J.

This case arises from Nathan Finstein's request that the East Greenwich School Committee provide him with information from his son's school record and retract statements in the school record made by a school psychologist that were allegedly false.

Facts and Travel

Mr. Finstein filed this administrative appeal, after a decision of the Rhode Island Board of Education[1] affirmed the decision of the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education (Commissioner), which ultimately resulted in the denial of Mr. Finstein's request. The Commissioner, upon recommendation from the hearing officer, granted a motion to dismiss filed by the East Greenwich School Committee seeking dismissal of Mr. Finstein's appeal to the Commissioner, after the School Committee denied Mr. Finstein's request. In response to the hearing officer's request for a statement of the issues from Mr. Finstein, Mr. Finstein articulated the relief he sought as follows:

1. He sought to compel the East Greenwich School Committee to provide him with all the information to which he was entitled concerning his son's behavioral problems in school and provide a full account of the process and justification for the school's decision to withhold information from him concerning his son's behavioral problems in school.

2. He further sought an order requiring the School Committee to correct or retract statements made by a school psychologist, which were made part of his son's school records.

In considering the School Committee's motion to dismiss the appeal, the hearing officer characterized the legal issue raised as follows:

Does the Commissioner have jurisdiction to hear a parent complaint that in 2008 a school psychologist employed by the school department made false statements contained in a letter containing the psychologist's opinion that counseling services be reinstated for the Appellant's son?

The Commissioner, in approving the recommendation of the hearing officer, determined that the dispute does not involve interpretation of a law relating to schools or education, and therefore, the Commissioner lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.[2] Further, the Commissioner found that insofar as the requested relief involves a clinical opinion of a medical professional, she believes she did not have the requisite expertise to rule on such a request. Accordingly, the Commissioner determined that she lacked any authority to order revisions to the statements made by a school psychologist. She further found that the issues raised on appeal were moot, and that the petitioner had unreasonably delayed seeking relief. Accordingly, it was the Commissioner's position that the appeal was barred by the legal doctrine of laches.

Mr. Finstein further appealed to the Rhode Island Board of Education (formerly the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education), see n.1, supra. The Rhode Island Board of Education affirmed the decision of the Commissioner. In affirming the

Commissioner's dismissal of the appeal, the Rhode Island Board of Education commented that the Commissioner's decision is consistent with Rhode Island law and not "patently arbitrary, discriminatory or unfair." Mr. Finstein then filed his appeal of the Rhode Island Board of Education's decision to this Court. This ...


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