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The School Ethics Commission held its regularly scheduled monthly meeting April 30, 2024, and took the following action: did not discuss any ethics complaints pursuant to the SEC’s previous regulations; discussed eight ethics complaints pursuant to the SEC’s new/amended regulations; adopted 10 decisions concerning previously discussed ethics complaints; considered four new advisory opinion requests (A06-24, A07-24, A08-24, and A09-24), as well as requests for clarification in A15-23 and A16-23; and also considered making nine advisory opinions public (A01-24 through A09-24).

Of the 10 decisions adopted by the SEC, eight were posted on the SEC’s website; therefore, the other two matters (C63-23 and C74-23) remain pending. As in the past several months, none of the nine advisory opinions that the SEC considered making public are posted on the SEC’s website, which is either because the SEC did not have the required number of members present to make the opinions public (six), or because the SEC did not have a sufficient number of affirmative votes to make the advisory opinions public (also six).

This article is limited to a discussion of the decisions adopted by the SEC in connection with C39-18, C60-23, C68-23, C75-23, and C77-23.

Final Decision Adopted in C39-18

Following transmittal of a matter to the Office of Administrative Law, an administrative law judge adjudicates the claims in the ethics complaint. Following a hearing(s), or the filing of a dispositive motion(s), the administrative law judge issues an initial decision, which the SEC can then affirm, modify, or reject as to the findings of fact, legal conclusions and recommended penalty (if any). The final decision in C39-18 was adopted by the SEC after reviewing an initial decision.

In C39-18, and while the matter was pending at the Office of Administrative Law, the parties submitted a stipulation of dismissal, agreeing to dismiss the matter with prejudice, and without costs or fees to either party. The administrative law judge issued an initial decision, concluding “that with the parties’ consent and in the interest of justice, this matter should be dismissed.” The SEC agreed and adopted a final decision dismissing the matter.

Probable Cause Review Decisions

The SEC also adopted seven probable cause review decisions at its April 30 meeting. Pursuant to the SEC’s amended regulation, “Probable cause shall be found when the facts and circumstances presented in the complaint and written statement would lead a reasonable person to believe that the [School Ethics Act] has been violated.” N.J.A.C. 6A:28-9.7(a).

In its review, the SEC determined that none of the seven complaints pled sufficient facts and circumstances to warrant a finding of probable cause and, as a result, were dismissed. The operative facts from C60-23, C68-23, C75-23, and C77-23 are as follows:

  • In C60-23, the complainant alleged that the named respondents (six members of the board) violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(a) because they failed to “enforce proper handling of disciplinary actions” in accordance with the district’s code of conduct, and were not “transparent regarding disciplinary incidents” (count 1); violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(b) because they “mishandled” instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying , failed to address the complainant’s concerns regarding a serious HIB matter, falsified records and failed to adequately address her concerns that assignments were not timely uploaded to “the grade book” (count 2); and violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(b) and N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(g) because they publicly supported the superintendent and endorsed a ”false, anonymous, unfounded, and disrespectful claim” about the complainant (count 3).
  • In C68-23, the complainant contended that the named respondents (five members of the board) violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(g) when, at a public board meeting, board counsel read a statement, on behalf of the board, “criticizing Complainant, questioning his motives for filing [other ethics] complaints [and a Government Records Council complaint] against ‘several’ [b]oard members, and alleging that taxpayer money was being wasted defending ‘frivolous litigation.’”
  • In C75-23, the complainant filed a 20-count complaint arguing that the named respondents (seven members of the board) violated multiple provisions of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members. The SEC dismissed counts 1-9 as untimely and, therefore, time barred. In the remaining counts, the complainant maintained that a respondent violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(b) when he posted on Facebook regarding an opt-out for lessons involving two moms and two dads, and when he falsely indicated that the ad hoc committee did not have “pre-formed plans or recommendations” and is not “anti-LGBTQIA+,” and that all of the named respondents violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(b) when they voted in favor of a resolution requesting that the New Jersey Department of Education reconsider the health standards (count 12, count 14, and count 17); violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(c) when a respondent “refused to place the ad hoc committee on the agenda,” when “Respondents failed to adequately inform the public about the work of the ad hoc committee in its first report,” when “Respondents voted in favor of a resolution requesting that the [New Jersey Department of Education] reconsider its health standards,” when respondents “discussed the resolution after its passage,” when respondents “considered two districts as models for the resolution but used ‘significantly more harsh’ language,” and when a respondent “continued to give inaccurate information regarding the work of the ad hoc committee” (count 10, and counts 16-20); violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(g) when a respondent “refused to place the ad hoc committee on the agenda,” “falsely stated that the ad hoc committee does not have ‘pre-formed plans or recommendations,’” and “failed to truthfully report the work of the ad hoc committee,” when another respondent “made a false statement that the health curriculum has ‘moved down from high school to middle school and now to elementary school,” when “respondents discussed the resolution after its passage, demonstrating it was based on false statements” and “considered other districts prior to the passage of the resolution,” and when another respondent “continued to give inaccurate information regarding the motives of the ad hoc committee” (count 10 and counts 14-20); and N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(i) when certain respondents refused to apologize for false accusations made about teachers, and when other respondents failed to apologize for their false statements (count 11 and count 13). Despite a request from the named respondents, the SEC did not find that the complaint was frivolous and/or that sanctions should be imposed.
  • In C77-23, the complainant suggested that the named respondents, district administrators, violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(a), N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b), N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(c), N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(e), and N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(f) because they “fraudulently created an Annual School Plan,” “falsely documented meetings that never occurred in order to fulfill the [Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)] mandate for community involvement, a prerequisite for obtaining federal funding,” and “exploit[ed] the good will of volunteers, intentionally appending their names to a fraudulent document without their consent or knowledge intended for the acquisition of federal funds.”
SEC’s Next Meeting

The SEC’s next meeting is currently scheduled for May 21, 2024.

As a reminder, school officials who would like to request an advisory opinion regarding their own or another school official’s prospective conduct may do so through the SEC. You may also want to refer to last week’s article, which focused on the decisions adopted by the SEC in connection with C64-23C69-23 and C73-23.

For further information about these matters, please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5279, or your board attorney for specific legal advice.