The New Jersey Commissioner of Education recently ruled that parents failed to demonstrate that the school district violated its affirmative action policy when it implemented a communication protocol that limited parents email access to staff.

In the case, parents became involved in a dispute about their enrolled children and used the district’s email system to communicate with staff. The administrative law judge who heard the initial decision deemed the parents’ use of district email “excessive” and found that several teachers felt threatened or harassed by those emails.

As a result of these emails, the district developed a communication protocol that limited parents’ access to only the superintendent, the business administrator, the director of special education, and the full board. While the protocol was in effect, the parents were unable to email teachers directly, but could communicate with teachers through classroom programs, by phone, and through in-person meetings.

The parents, in objecting to the communication protocol, filed a complaint with the district and sought an investigation into the implementation of the limitations, alleging that the protocol violated the districts affirmative action policy. The parents also alleged that the policy failed to ensure equal and bias-free access to all students’ in district activities, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

The district administration investigated the parents’ complaint and determined that the communication protocol did not violate district policy. Subsequently, the parents filed a petition of appeal before the commissioner of education. That petition was forwarded to the Office of Administrative Law for fact-finding and an initial recommendation.

That initial decisionnoted that nothing in the district’s affirmative action policy would prevent the district from imposing a communication protocol unless it was biased. The judge explicitly found that the protocol was not put in place for any discriminatory reason.

Additionally, the judge noted, without deciding the issue, that the board had an obligation to take steps necessary to ensure the safe and orderly operation of the schools, that at the time the protocol was implemented, the parents’ emails were excessive, caused disruptions, and were unnecessary in order for the parents to have access to the child and the child’s educational programming.

The judge concluded by dismissing the petition because the parents failed to prove that the communication protocol had a discriminatory purpose. Upon review, the commissioner agreed that the protocol was not basedon discrimination and was instead put in place due to the excessive and aggressive nature of the parents’ communication with district staff.

For more information about this matter, board members or administrators may wish to speak to the board attorney, or call the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.