In a recent decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division approved the Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission’s request to change its name to the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ). The motivation for requesting the name change was to make the name reflective of its current presence as a statewide provider of educationally-related services, and the change was initially approved by the State Board of Education.

The State Board’s approval did not sit well with the New Jersey Council of Educational Services Commission (Council), which filed the appeal with the Appellate Division. Educational services commissions are created when local boards of education each adopt resolutions creating the commission and then seek approval from the State Board of Education. The Council is made up of participating members of local educational services commissions. Nine of the state’s eleven educational services commissions objected to the name change.

During the appeal, ESCNJ argued that the Council did not have a legal standing to appeal the State Board’s decision since it provided no services that were negatively impacted by the name change. The court, however, ruled that the Council had standing in this case because it represented nine other educational services commissions who opposed the name change.

The Council also argued that the State Board lacked the authority to approve the name change, because it was only statutorily authorized to approve the original name listed on education services commission applications. The court agreed that the State Board had authority to approve the ESCNJ’s original name but disagreed with the Council’s limited interpretation of relevant statutes.

Specifically, the appeals court found it unreasonable to assume that the legislature authorized the State Board of Education to approve the Educational Services Commission’s original name –and approve any change in its purpose– but not to approve a change of its initial name. The court ruled that by granting the State Board of Education broad oversight over the Educational Services Commissions, the Legislature also implicitly granted the State Board the authority to approve any request for a name change.

Lastly, the court also rejected the idea by the Council that the name change was unnecessary, would possibly cause confusion, and provided the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey with a competitive advantage. The State Board of Education has previously granted the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey the right to expand the services it offers statewide, thus this name change did not imply that there was a competitive advantage or that it was state-sanctioned by virtue of the name change.

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