If you began your board service in the 1990s or before, you may remember the moment when you were handed a paper copy of the board of education policy manual. The 10-pound book probably seemed as overwhelming as it was heavy.

Today, the policy manual is more likely to be accessed online than by flipping through a huge binder. And while it is true that reading the policy manual may still seem like a daunting task — and developing and maintaining the manual may appear to be an even bigger job, make no mistake: Policy development and maintenance is fundamental to your role as a board member. It is a crucial part of overseeing the educational program, and ensuring the fair and orderly operation of the school district.

A well maintained policy manual enables the board to stay in compliance with law, provides crucial guidance to the administration for dealing with day-to-day school operations, and provides direction when problems and crises arise. Most important, a well maintained policy manual establishes the philosophy of the board, the goals of the educational program and details the means to achieve those goals. This enables the board to demonstrate fair and evenhanded governance to the school community.

The NJSBA Legal, Labor and Policy Department provides the Critical Policy Reference Manual (CPRM) as a dues-based resource to assist school boards and administrators in managing their local policy manual and staying abreast of state and federal legal requirements.

Two CPRMS are Available The CPRM may be used as a reference tool and applied to the development and maintenance of individual district/school policies. NJSBA Policy Services maintains two separate yet similar Critical Policy Reference Manuals: one for school districts and one that is customized for charter schools. Both the district and charter versions of the CPRM are applicable for pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

The CPRM represents the minimum standard in policy for enabling school districts and charter schools to stay in compliance with law, meet the policy requirements for state monitoring (either Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) or Charter Renewal), and guide the fair and orderly operation of the district or school.

New “critical” policies are added and existing policies revised as state and federal laws and regulations change and/or changes become necessary to address commissioner decisions, case law decisions, and New Jersey Department of Education guidance. As we update the CPRM and make changes to the model policies and legal reference pages, we announce the changes in School Board Notes and post the updated policies and legal references on the Policy Update List published on the password protected Policy webpage of njsba.org. Marked-up versions of the updates are available upon request.

NJSBA policy consultants work with NJSBA attorneys to evaluate school-related issues as they arise and determine if an area is critical to local districts and charter schools. The NJSBA attorneys vet all new and revised policies prior to publication. It is important to note that before your board adopts a new or revised policy your attorney should review it to ensure that your interests are protected.

In general, critical policies in the CPRM are added and existing critical policies revised when the consequences of not having a policy or policy language could be a liability to the board. For example, not having the policy or policy language would:

  • Cause the district/school to be out of compliance with statute and/or administrative code;
  • Create uncertainty in the operation of a school program that may increase the likelihood of litigation;
  • Cause the district or school to lose points or even fail to pass the monitoring process;
  • Damage the district’s/school’s or the board’s public image;
  • Impair the board’s ability to function;
  • Impair the administration’s ability to function.

Model Policies Each sample policy in the CPRM contains model policy language that may be used for developing an individual district/school policy. Each policy is categorized:

  • Monitored: Policy topics addressed in the monitoring process;
  • Mandated: Policies explicitly required by statute, administrative code or state board resolutions;
  • Other Reasons: Policies necessary to most districts/schools because of commissioner decisions, case law decisions, New Jersey Department of Education guidance, and important aspects of law and/or regulation that the board and public need to be aware of.

Since the Critical Policy Reference Manual is applicable for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, the policy language should be evaluated by the board and edited to remove any content that does not apply. For example, policy 5142.1 Safety Patrol is a mandated policy but if the district or school does not have a safety patrol then the policy is not necessary; and teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is required in grades 9-12, so elementary schools do not have to add this content to their policies.

Legal References Each model policy in the district CPRM is accompanied by a detailed legal reference document (charter school members may view the district version of the CPRM for access to the legal reference pages). The legal reference document is a guide to the required or advisable policy content. It summarizes possible sources of information necessary in developing or evaluating a policy including, but not limited to state and federal laws and regulations, commissioner decisions, case law decisions, and New Jersey Department of Education guidance. The legal reference document is organized with sections related to the categories that pertain to the policy:

  • Monitored: Identifies the indicators in the District Performance Review (DPR) of the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) which involve that policy topic in the monitoring process.
  • Mandated: Lists the state or federal statutes and/or regulations that the NJSBA Legal, Labor and Policy Department has identified as explicitly requiring written board policy language.
  • Other Reasons: Lists the state or federal statutes or regulations which require the board to do something, and for which a policy explaining the requirement is advisable. Also included in this section, other criteria are covered such as important commissioner decisions, case law decisions and guidance that are applicable to the topic.

Jean Harkness is a policy consultant in NJSBA’s Legal, Labor and Policy Department.