The N.J. School Ethics Commission (SEC) on March 28 issued  public advisory opinion A15-18 in which the SEC took up the issue of volunteering in the schools as it relates to a board member who is also president of the parent-teacher association.

The opinion also addressed whether the board member’s support of the local teacher’s union, and its support of her, prohibited her participation on the board’s negotiation committee.

At the outset, the SEC noted that serving on the board does not preclude a board member from also acting on behalf of his or her child. Therefore, and generally speaking, board members are able to volunteer for activities that support their children within the district without violating the act.

The SEC’s previous opinions on volunteerism generally turned on the degree of involvement a board member had with staff and students, as well as the degree to which the board member had authority to give and receive directions and orders to staff during the volunteer activity. In these previously issued public advisory opinions, the Commission advised that where the board member was in a supervisory position and generally oversaw staff or students, such interaction would be inconsistent with the act.

In addition to being president of the PTA, the board member was: a homeroom parent, a coordinator of other homeroom parents, involved with a school-based communication committee that meets with the principal, and coordinator of family movie nights and field days. In each of these roles, the SEC determined that the board member deferred to the principal and/or teaching staff as she helped support the activity for which she was volunteering.  This passive form of volunteering, the SEC concluded, does not violate the School Ethics Act, unlike earlier opinions A32-14 and A10-15 in which the volunteers actively directed staff or students.

The SEC also determined that the board member’s participation on the negotiations committee and involvement in personnel matters did not violate the act where the board member had expressed support for the union and the union had supported, yet not endorsed, the board member’s candidacy.

For further information about this opinion, board members may contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Service Department, or their board attorney.

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