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S.J. v. Thomas

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

December 19, 2017

S.J., Appellant,


         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Escambia County. John L. Miller, Judge.

          Benjamin James Stevenson, ACLU Foundation of Florida, Pensacola, and Nancy Abudu, ACLU Foundation of Florida, Miami, for Appellant.

          Joseph L. Hammons, The Hammons Law Firm, Pensacola, for Appellees. WOLF, J.

         Appellant S.J. challenges a trial court order dismissing with prejudice his complaint requesting mandamus relief. Appellant, a high school student, requested the trial court to require appellee the Escambia County School Board (the School

          Board) to issue a final order as defined by the Administrative Procedure Act (the APA), in section 120.57(7), Florida Statutes (2015), in an administrative proceeding regarding appellant's "disciplinary reassignment" by the School Board. We find that the complaint for mandamus relief sufficiently alleged facts that entitle appellant to mandamus relief.[1] We, therefore, reverse and remand for the trial court to issue an alternative writ of mandamus directing the School Board to show cause why the alternative writ should not be granted. See Holcomb v. Dep't of Corr., 609 So.2d 751, 753 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992); Radford v. Brock, 914 So.2d 1066, 1067-68 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005).

         I. Facts

         Appellant, a minor, sued the School Board and the Superintendent of Schools, Malcolm Thomas. In his complaint, appellant alleged that the superintendent removed him from his regular, traditional school, West Florida High School, through a process called "disciplinary reassignment, " and did not give him an option to attend another traditional school. Instead, appellant alleged he had to finish out the school year at either an alternative school or a virtual school. Appellant opposed the "disciplinary reassignment" and requested a hearing, which was held pursuant to the APA, sections 120.569 and 120.57, Florida Statutes. On January 28, 2016, the hearing officer issued a recommended order recommending appellant be "disciplinarily reassigned" for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year.

         On February 16, 2016, the School Board adopted the hearing officer's recommended order, and in March 2016 it created a Notice of Adoption of Recommended Order. There is no indication that the School Board intended its Notice of Adoption of Recommended Order to be a rendered final order pursuant to section 120.57(7). Further, the School Board's actions throughout this proceeding indicate that although it held a hearing on the issue of appellant's "disciplinary reassignment" pursuant to the APA, it did not intend to bestow upon appellant all of the rights afforded by the APA.

         After the Notice of Adoption of Recommended Order was filed, appellant filed a complaint alleging two counts, only one of which is pertinent to the current appeal: appellant requested a writ of mandamus against the School Board, alleging the Board had an indisputable legal duty to issue a written final order pursuant to the APA following the hearing and the hearing officer's recommended order of "disciplinary reassignment." Appellant reasoned that his "disciplinary reassignment" affected his substantial interests much like expulsion. Specifically as to the nature of the "disciplinary reassignment, " appellant's complaint alleged:

10. Following an incident on October 1, 2015, the Student's regular school principal suspended the Student.
11. Based on the October 1 incident, the Student's school principal requested that the Superintendent remove the Student from his regular school.
12.On October 21, 2016 [sic], the Superintendent recommended to the School Board to remove the Student from his regular school through a process called "disciplinary reassignment."
13.Both disciplinarily reassigned students and students expelled with services are removed from their regular schools. Expelled students are offered the same educational services at an alternative or virtual school as offered to disciplinarily reassigned students.
14. Like the determination to expel a student, the determination to disciplinarily reassign a student affects his substantial interest.
15.Disciplinary reassign [sic] affects a student's substantial interest in a high quality education and educational opportunities in several ways including the quantity and quality of work assignments, the curriculum design, availability of physical education, the teaching methods and learning activities used, access to highly qualified teachers, positive social interactions with traditional school students during both instructional and non-instructional periods, eligibility to participate in sports and extracurricular activities, blemish on school record, and the location of the school.
16.After the Superintendent issued his recommendation of disciplinary reassignment, the Superintendent prohibited the Student from attending his regular school. The Superintendent has prohibited the Student from attending his regular school since the Superintendent made the recommendation of disciplinary reassignment. The Superintendent continues to prohibit the Student from attending his regular school or any other traditional school in the School District.
. . . .

(Emphasis ...

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