The Appellant, Alan B. on behalf of his son T.B., seeks reversal of a November 18, 2013, decision by the Highland Community School District School Board of Directors (hereafter "HCSD Board") affirming the administration's decision issuing T.B. a thirty day suspension from competition under the district's good conduct policy.T.B. received a copy of the HHS student handbook at the beginning of the school year. T.B. is a member of the HCSD Cross Country team that attended the Iowa State Cross Country championships in Fort Dodge.
Students who attended the championships stayed at the Country Inn & Suites in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Sometime after 10:00 p.m. some of the students who were in room 105 threw paint balls in the room damaging the walls and furnishings.The appellee's investigation concluded that T.B. was not a participant involved in causing the damages but was present in the room when the damages occurred. T.B. did not leave the room before or after the damages occurred. T.B. did not report the damages to Coach Strobel or to the motel management. T.B. was suspended for thirty days for a violation of the good conduct policy claiming that T.B. committed exceedingly inappropriate or offensive conduct.The suspension was because T.B. did not report the incident to Coach Strobel or motel management. The suspension was issued for a full thirty days because T.B. denied any involvement in the incident as opposed to the students who admitted their involvement. The students who admitted their involvement had suspensions reduced to fifteen days under the Good Conduct Penalty Reduction policy rules.
In appeals to the State Board under Iowa Code chapter 290, the legislature has mandated that the State Board render a decision that is "just and equitable." It is well settled that the State Board cannot overturn a local board decision unless the local decision is "unreasonable and contrary to the best interest of education." Thus the standard of review is a test of reasonableness.The appelle found that T.B. violated the provision of HCSD's good conduct policy regarding exceedingly inappropriate or offensive conduct because T.B. "did not report the incident to the coach or to motel management." The Appellant in this case argues that this provision does not require T.B. to inform on his teammates for their exceedingly inappropriate or offensive conduct. The Appellant cites Andrew v. East Greene Community School District, 22 D.o.E. App. Dec. 194 (2003), to support the proposition that it is a matter of fairness that T.B. be informed of what the rules are before a finding that the T.B. has violated the rules. The State Board agrees.
School boards are not required to write good conduct rules "with the precision of criminal code." In re Justin Anderson et al., 14 D.o.E. App. Dec. 294, 299 (1997). However, the rules must be written "with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement." Students and parents alike look at good conduct policies to determine what the rules are. The question here is whether or not a high school student or the parent of who is reading this rule would understand what behavior would result in a violation of the rule. We do not think so.The undisputed evidence is that T.B. was not involved in the conduct in the motel room that resulted in damages. Nor is there evidence that T.B. was insubordinate or involved in hazing or harassment of others. On its face, there is no evidence that T.B. violated this rule.
The district has broadly construed this rule to include a requirement to inform on team members who violate the good conduct policy. However, nothing in this rule provides notice to a student that they are required to do so. Nor is there any other provision in HCSD's good conduct policy that requires a student to inform on other students. The only provision that requires an affirmative duty to do anything is the provision which requires a student to leave if found to be in the presence of drugs or alcohol. However, that provision provides no requirement to inform on other students who are present. If the district wanted to make informing on other students part of the rule they have the authority to, but they have not done so here. We will broadly construe the good conduct policy; however, to find that it encompasses T.B.'s conduct would require the State Board to, in effect, redraft the HCSD's good conduct policy. This we cannot do.The district argues, as an afterthought, that T.B.'s conduct could also fall under the provision regarding criminal activity. We find this argument unpersuasive. The violation the district originally charged T.B. with is being involved in behavior that is "exceedingly inappropriate or offensive." The district cannot now claim a violation of another rule without violating due process rights. Furthermore, the record is clear that T.B. was not involved in the conduct. There is no indication that the line between bystander and accomplice was crossed by T.B. In all areas of the law, mere bystander liability is the exception and not the rule. Mere bystander liability, absent extraordinary circumstances not present here, will not be imposed absent an express statute, rule, agreement, or provision.The State Board finds that that the decision of the HCSD Board to uphold the suspension of T.B. unreasonable and contrary to the best interest of education in light of the fact that the HCSD's good conduct policy cannot reasonably be read to impose an obligation to inform on teammates and, as such, did not provide notice to T.B. that not informing on his teammates would result in a violation of the policy.
The decision of the Highland Community School District Board of Directors made on November 18, 2013, affirming the administration's decision issuing T.B. a thirty day suspension from competition under the district's good conduct policy is REVERSED. The school is ordered to remove the violation from T.B.'s record.