The New Jersey Commissioner of Education has recommended that boards of education provide written prior notice to teachers who are serving in temporary replacement positions, informing them of their ineligibility to receive tenure on the basis of the time spent in the temporary position.

In Bridgewater-Raritan Educ. Assoc. v. Board of Educ. of the Bridgewater-Raritan School District the education commissioner determined that a teacher who was initially hired as a temporary replacement for a teacher on maternity leave did not receive the notice required by a previous New Jersey Supreme Court decision.

In the earlier decision, the court reviewed the statute which permits a board of education to designate (hire) a temporary employee to fill in during another staff member’s leave or absence. However N.J.S.A. 18A:16-1.1, indicates that the replacement does not acquire tenure during that temporary service. The Supreme Court found that the term “designate” in N.J.S.A. 18A:16-1.1, “incorporates an obligation that the employer give notice to the employee receiving the specialized designation that takes the employee off the normal service road toward tenure. “ The court construed N.J.S.A. 18A:16-1.1 to require a board of education to make an employee aware that he or she is being employed as a ‘replacement.’

Determining if Notice was Served Having established a duty for districts to provide notice, the state Supreme Court returned the case to the commissioner to determine if notice had been provided to a particular employee. In the instant case, the teacher had served one year as a replacement for another teacher on parental leave. The replacement teacher was then hired on a non-replacement basis for the next three years, giving the teacher a total of four years of continuous service. In that third year of working in a non-replacement capacity, the board sent her a letter of nonrenewal. The teacher challenged the nonrenewal asserting that it violated her tenure rights. She asserted that the first year in which she served as a replacement should count toward the acquisition of tenure, as she was never told she was being hired as a replacement. The commissioner determined that the district had not provided the notice required by the state Supreme Court. Because notice had not been given to the teacher, the commissioner determined that her first year of service, in which she was serving in a temporary replacement capacity, counted toward tenure acquisition. Additionally, the commissioner found the district liable for over $127,000 in back pay for the improper dismissal. As part of his determination, the commissioner issued the following cautionary words, “it would behoove all boards of education intending to designate an individual as a replacement employee to provide written notice of such designation prior to the commencement of work in the replacement position.”

Boards of education are urged to consult with their board attorneys concerning any changes to policies or procedures that may be needed as a result of the commissioner’s decision.