The commissioner of education recently issued several new decisions, in the areas of student residency, tenure rights and more, that affect boards of education. Following is a description of those decisions.
In A.B. o/b/o T.B. v. Red Bank Regional Bd. of Ed., the commissioner affirmed the administrative law judge (ALJ)’s finding that T.B. and her parent, A.B., were not domiciled in the school district from March 2014 through June 2015 and from November 2015 through June 2016, and therefore, the students were not entitled to a free public education in the Red Bank schools during that time period. The petitioner was directed to reimburse the board in the amount of $ 18,433.60 for tuition costs incurred for the period of ineligible attendance. The matter was fraught with procedural issues including the petitioner’s failure to participate in three separate pre-hearing conference calls; failure to appear at the initial Office of Administrative Law (OAL) hearing; a remand to the OAL subsequent to correspondence to the commissioner explaining petitioner’s failure to initially appear; a second failure to appear followed by a “health issues” explanation for the non-appearance; and request for an adjournment followed by an opportunity to present evidence in opposition to the tuition reimbursement request, to which no opposition was presented. The petition was dismissed.
In K.H. o/b/o A.H. and V.H. v Butler Bd. of Ed., the commissioner rejected the ALJ’s decision and determined that, as of August 22, 2016, A.H. and V.H. were legally entitled to attend the Butler schools. The ALJ had determined that because, pursuant to the terms of their parent’s divorce, the children lived in Butler with their father for 48 percent of the time and with their mother outside the school district for 52 percent of the time, the children were not entitled to attend the Butler schools. While this living arrangement would normally preclude attendance in the Butler schools, the ALJ did not take into account the fact that there was a consent order, entered into on August 22, 2016, as part of the divorce proceedings, that designated that A.H. and V.H. would attend school in the Butler district. Pursuant to the residency administrative code, where there is a consent order or a written agreement between the parents that designates the school district of attendance, the amount of time spent with either parent does not dictate where the children must attend school. Because the record showed that the parents were divorced in April 2016 and the consent order was not entered until August 22, 2016, it is possible that A.H. and V.H. were not eligible to attend school in the Butler school district during that time period. The matter was remanded to the OAL for a determination as to whether the board would be entitled to tuition for any potential period of ineligibility prior to the entry of the August 22 consent order.
In Goetz v. Freehold Twp. Bd. of Ed., the commissioner adopted the ALJ’s determination that petitioner, a tenured teacher of technology education, had no tenure or seniority rights to a position in the school district subsequent to a reduction in force. Earlier in the year, petitioner had been advised that his position would likely be eliminated and was encouraged to seek employment elsewhere. Upon securing employment in another school district, the petitioner submitted a letter of resignation, which was accepted by the board of education, prior to the board passing a resolution to conduct a reduction in force. Petitioner later requested that his resignation be extended until the end of the school year, which was approved by the board, but never asked that his resignation be rescinded. Case law has consistently held that an employee’s tenure and seniority rights are extinguished upon a duly-accepted resignation. Once the resignation was accepted by the board, there were no tenure or seniority rights to be preserved. Summary decision was granted to the board.
In M.A. o/b/o J.A. v. Verona Twp. Bd. of Ed., the commissioner adopted the ALJ’s determination that the matter in question was moot and should be dismissed. The petitioner had sought to have his daughter, who had completed her junior year, participate in a summer credit recovery program in an effort to improve the grades she had received during her sophomore year. A motion for emergent relief was sought and denied in July 2016. At the time of this decision, the summer program was in the past and a decision would have no practical effect on petitioner’s request as the relief sought by petitioner was no longer available. The matter was dismissed as moot.
In L.S. o/b/o J.S. v. Piscataway Twp. Bd. of Ed., the commissioner adopted the ALJ’s determination to uphold the four-day out-of-school suspension imposed by the board on J.S. for violating the board’s written policy against cheating. The matter involved an incident in an honors trigonometry class where a test was interrupted by a lock-down drill. The teacher advised that the class would be given additional time in a subsequent class to finish the test. The teacher was absent for the next couple of class days due to illness. During the period of absence, students, including J.S., accessed the unfinished tests from a filing cabinet and, without the authorization of the teacher and without the teacher being present, completed the test, including changing answers. J.S. admitted to the behavior but disagreed with the characterization of “cheating.” The ALJ upheld the board’s determination that J.S. had cheated, as well as the four day out-of-school suspension penalty, finding that the decision was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. The commissioner agreed.