One of the fundamental dues-based services the NJSBA Policy unit provides is consultation. Your policy consultants spend many hours reading, reviewing and assessing policy manuals so it is a welcome diversion to do some research and prepare materials for board members interested in developing policy language to address specific situations that have arisen in their district. A few examples of recent policy inquires and the NJSBA responses follow:

I was hoping you might have a policy or policies that prohibit or restrict a student from riding his/her bike to/from school. There are high-traffic areas along particular routes and the school board is concerned about student safety and its liability.  Are you aware of any policy in which a board seeks to restrict the manner in which students are transported to/from its schools?

A board may discourage children from riding bicycles to school along certain routes as a safety measure. However, it is questionable if a policy that limits or prohibits conduct before the school day begins or after it ends is enforceable.

The school board does control the use of the facilities and grounds so they may prohibit bicycles from coming onto the school grounds. If a student violates such a policy by riding a bicycle on school grounds then the code of conduct may be applied. In addition, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling: Jerkins v. Anderson, decided on June 14, 2007, placed responsibility on school districts to supervise students at dismissal and ensure young students are dismissed according to parent/guardian authorized arrangements. It is arguable that if the plan is to have a young child ride home by way of an unsafe route the district can refuse to release the student.

Depending on the community and how many riders the policy will affect, this may have the potential to be controversial and incite community outcry. Parents may feel some outrage and see this as interfering with their rights to parent their child.  To reduce the potential for controversy, the district may reach out to parent groups (PTA, PTO) and the school community to educate the community on the issue and gain support for safe riding.

The board has been requested to approve the planting of a tree in memory of an important member of the community. While one tree is manageable, it can become a problem if there are a lot of requests. What about benches, tables and other outdoor furnishings; sidewalks, stepping stones, statuary?

Policy 7550 Memorials and Dedications is not a required policy but a good policy to develop. We get many requests for samples from boards that have a variety of situations and concerns. One of the most memorable was from a board requesting samples after accepting a statue in memory of a member of the school community with the condition that it be placed in the school lobby. Let’s just say that they were not very happy when it arrived and having already accepted the statue without seeing it, felt compelled to install it. Flying in the face of conventional etiquette, it is perhaps a better policy to “look a gift horse in the mouth” before accepting it.

A policy on this topic should include a statement affirming the board’s nondiscrimination policy. Many samples have a written proposal process that includes how the proposal should be submitted, how it will be evaluated and how the board will respond.

Frequently, boards will require that the chief school administrator review the proposal and make a recommendation to the board. Also, in the case of naming facilities, it is common for the board to establish an Ad Hoc committee to review proposals and make recommendations prior to board approval.

The policy or procedures may also cover criteria for the approval of memorials such as requiring that:

  • There is room for the memorial; or
  • There is an appropriate location to place or display the memorial;
  • The memorial contributes in a positive way to the physical aesthetic of the school and/or grounds.

The board should also clearly state that all items received as memorials become the property of the district and the district cannot guarantee that memorials that become damaged or worn will be replaced or repaired at district expense. In addition, the board should notify any applicants that memorials may be moved or removed due to renovations, construction, repairs or other reorganization of the district property and facilities.

When developing this policy, it is prudent for the board to review all other policy statements dealing with gifts (NJSBA file code: 3280 Gifts Grants and Bequests). These policies are closely related and should be coordinated.

We’re working on a partnership with another district and they had a good question. Are there any policies advocated for by NJSBA or mandated by the state that touch on academic integrity or plagiarism measures?

There is nothing in law that requires a board to adopt policy on academic integrity or on plagiarism.
Boards of education are required to develop a code of conduct and annually review/update it (5131 Conduct and Discipline).  The code of student conduct has many required and monitored elements including behavioral expectations.  While the actual expectations are up to the board, frequently these expectations include the core values of honesty and integrity.  In addition, the code of conduct is required to have a description of consequences for behavioral infractions.  Almost all the codes of conduct that we review have cheating and plagiarism listed as an infraction.  Samples on this topic are regularly requested and we have district sample policies and NJSBA developed language on academic integrity and plagiarism. We also see extensive coverage of this topic in student handbooks which are also board- approved documents.

I have used a reference sheet in the past that lists all the required policies that must be shared with parents annually.  Do you know if the list was updated? 

This list was recently updated and emailed to a member. Such inquiries keep us on our toes and force us to review materials and resources so “bring it.”

What is the best form of distribution to parents?

Districts usually do a combination of things for compliance with the numerous parental notification requirements. They may distribute policies directly through paper (mail or backpack) and email, post policies on the website and place notifications in the handbook.

HIB is required to be posted on the website as well as the district equal employment opportunity and equal educational opportunity statements. When the law does not specify the method of distribution, posting on the website may be sufficient.  However, you should consider the importance of the topic when doing this and whether or not you want the added assurance of a signed receipt of the information. Consulting your attorney can help.

When the required notification is a form, pamphlet or other important information, the policies are usually not distributed and only the forms or pamphlets/information are distributed. It is a good practice to reference the policy number and title on the forms and pamphlets. Signatures of receipt are often required for pamphlets and information to prove the information was sent and received.

Handbooks cover many of the notification requirements such as rules for attendance, the code of student conduct, complaint procedures and rules for dismissal. Handbooks frequently summarize the requirements of the policy and/or give detailed procedures so that students and parents/guardians know what to do and what to expect. It is a best practice to include the policy number and title with each topic in the handbook. The list can be found here.

Do not underestimate the importance of your questions. Each time we research the topics you contact us about, develop sample policy language, policies, lists and job descriptions, these resources become available to all the members. Your questions play an integral part in the quality of information that is available to everyone.

For sample and model policies regulations covering the inquiries discussed in this article and other topics that interest you or for help developing policy and regulation language to suit your needs do not hesitate to contact NJSBA Policy Services or (609) 278-5268.

Jean Harkness is an NJSBA policy consultant.