Plaintiff: Andrew Thomas, Esq.; Ronald F. Cascione, Esq.
Defendant: Paul V. Sullivan, Esq.
this Court is an appeal from a decision of the Rhode Island
Board of Education (Board of Education) affirming the
Commissioner of Education's (the Commissioner) decision
in favor of Appellees E. Doe (Doe) and Doe's parent,
Elaine Waller. In its March 11, 2013 decision, the Board of
Education concluded that the East Providence School
Department (School Department or Appellant) was required to
pay Doe's tuition to attend a state approved career and
technical program of study, which was located outside of her
city of residence, during the 2011-2012 academic year.
is pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§ 42-35-15, et
seq. For the reasons that follow, the Board of
Education's decision is affirmed.
2009 to 2013, Doe was a high school student who lived with
her parents in the City of East Providence. During that time,
Doe attended the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the
Performing and Visual Arts (the Walsh School), located in
Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The Walsh School is a public arts
high school offering conservatory style classes in visual
arts, dance, music and theater, in addition to rigorous
academic courses. As a student at the Walsh School, Doe
studied music, specifically, the violin, which the East
Providence High School did not offer.
her freshman and sophomore years, 2009-2011, Doe's
parents paid out-of-district tuition so that she could attend
the music program at the Walsh School. In May 2011, four
months before the beginning of Doe's junior year, the
Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) designated the
Walsh School's visual arts, dance, music, and theater
programs as "approved career and technical programs of
study." In light of the school's approval by RIDE,
Doe's parents, on her behalf, requested that the School
Department pay Doe's tuition for the upcoming 2011-2012
academic year. The School Department denied Doe's
request, maintaining that it had no obligation to pay the
tuition because the Walsh School was not one of the ten
schools identified as an "area vocational-technical
center" by the 1990 Regulations of the Board of Regents
Governing the Management and Operation of Area
Vocational-Technical Centers in Rhode Island (1990
Regulations). Doe's parents paid out-of-district
tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year.
1, 2012, after Doe completed her junior year at the Walsh
School, RIDE updated the 1990 Regulations and removed the
provision that specifically identified the ten
schools. The School Department thereafter paid
Doe's tuition for the 2012-2013 school year for her
attendance at the Walsh School, in conformity with RIDE's
updated regulations. Thus, the only tuition at issue in this
appeal is for the 2011-2012 academic year.
appealed to RIDE from the School Department's denial of
her request for tuition to be paid for the 2011-2012 academic
year. In a decision dated October 11, 2011, the Commissioner
found that the School Department was required to pay
Doe's tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year. The School
Department subsequently appealed the Commissioner's
decision to the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary
Education (the Board of Regents), which in turn remanded the
matter to the Commissioner for further
findings. On remand, the Commissioner affirmed its
October 11, 2011 decision. The School Department appealed the
Commissioner's Decision on Remand to the Board of
Education, the Board of Regents' successor. By its decision
dated March 11, 2013, the Board of Education affirmed the
Commissioner's decision and concluded that the School
Department was required to pay Doe's 2011-2012 tuition.
The School Department timely appealed the Board of
Education's decision to this Court on April 3, 2013.
42-35-15(g) of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA)
establishes this Court's appellate jurisdiction to review
final decisions issued by state administrative agencies.
See McAninch v. State of R.I. Dep't of Labor
& Training, 64 A.3d 84, 87 (R.I. 2013). Pursuant to
"[t]he court shall not substitute its judgment for that
of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions
of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or
remand the case for further proceedings, or it may reverse or
modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant
have been prejudiced ...