Student misses out on top 10%. Files suit.

Rafael Rubalcaba III graduated just a bit outside of the top ten percent of his graduating class at Raymondville High School in 2013.  He claimed that this was a mistake, that the district should have given him more credit for a geometry class that he took in 8th grade.  In the suit, Mr. Rubalcaba alleged that the district’s error cost him a college scholarship and the opportunity to enroll in some of our top universities.

The trial court dismissed the suit and now the Court of Appeals has affirmed that decision.  The court held that the district was immune from liability.  The suit alleged that the board discussed the policy pertaining to GPAs in closed session, which would not be permitted under the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). However, there was no allegation or proof that the board took a vote in closed session.  Therefore, there was no basis for the court to exercise jurisdiction. On top of that, the student had graduated and enrolled in college, and thus, the court deemed the matter “moot.”

The decision also notes that Mr. Rubalcaba had administrative remedies available to him that he failed to take advantage of. He never filed a formal complaint with the district as per district policy.  Having never presented the matter to the RISD board, he did not have a basis to appeal a decision to T.E.A.  The court summarized: “We hold that Rubalcaba failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, i.e., he did not appeal to the Commissioner of Education, filed no formal complaint, and did not sign up to present his challenge to the Board.”

Case dismissed.  After the trial court ruled against Mr. Rubalcaba he filed a motion for new trial and sought sanctions against the district. That did not turn out so well.  The trial court not only denied the motion for new trial, it also slapped Mr. Rubalcaba with an order to pay $1500 to the school district as a sanction.  The Court of Appeals reversed that order.  It noted that such sanctions are reserved for “those egregious situations where the worst of the bar uses our honored system for ill motive without regard to reason and the guiding principles of the law.”  That was not the case here.  So Mr. Rubalcaba does not owe the district $1500, but he has lost his lawsuit.  In fact, he did not even get to present the merits of his argument because of his failure to overcome the district’s immunity, and his failure to pursue administrative remedies.

It’s just about graduation time here in Texas, so we thought we’d tell you about this case.  Be sure that you follow your district policy in calculating GPA.  With our top ten percent law and the scholarships that are available to students based on class rank, there is more at stake than bragging rights.  If parents or students feel they have been treated unfairly, refer them to your local district grievance procedures.

The case of Rubalcaba v. Raymondville ISD was decided by the Texas Court of Appeals for Corpus Christi-Edinburg on March 31, 2016. We found it at 2016 WL 1274486.