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Appellate Division Affirms Commissioner of Education’s Remand of HIB Case Involving Employee

By on April 10, 2018 in Other with 0 Comments

A school district staff member was a teacher and former wrestling coach employed by the Hunterdon Central Regional School District Board of Education (“Board”). He was the subject of a harassment, intimidation, and bullying investigation (“HIB”) due to a complaint that during a wrestling camp he stated to a special education student, on two occasions, that he hoped the student did not have access to any weapons or keys to the gun closet. The school district determined that the teacher’s actions constituted HIB. As a result of a series of appeals, the New Jersey Appellate Division on March 1, 2018 in S.G. v. Hunterdon Central Regional School District Board of Education affirmed the Commissioner of Education’s (“Commissioner”) decision to remand the matter to the Board for further proceedings.

The school district’s finding of HIB was reported to the Board. After receiving the results of the HIB investigation, the teacher requested a hearing before the Board. However, the Board denied the request. Instead, the Board offered the teacher an opportunity to make a statement at the next Board meeting. The teacher objected to the lack of hearing and did not attend the Board meeting. At the next Board meeting, the Board affirmed the finding of HIB against the teacher and terminated him from all coaching activities.

The teacher appealed the decision to the Commissioner, who referred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law, which was heard by an ALJ. Based on stipulated facts, the ALJ determined that the teacher made the statements. The ALJ also found that the teacher was entitled to a hearing before the Board as required by the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (“Act”) involving HIB complaints. The ALJ further determined that this was a denial of due process warranting an expungement of any reference to HIB from the teacher’s personnel file.

The Board filed exceptions with the Commissioner, who agreed with the ALJ except on the issue of remedy. The Commissioner disagreed that the teacher’s personnel record should be expunged as a result of the Board’s failure to hold a hearing. Instead, the Commissioner determined that the proper remedy is to remand the matter to the Board for a hearing.

The teacher appealed to the Appellate Division, which affirmed the Commissioner’s decision. The Appellate Division rejected the teacher’s argument that the Commissioner’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable because N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15(b)(6)(d) afforded him such a hearing and the remedy was appropriate. The Appellate Division also rejected the teacher’s argument that he would not receive due process if he were to have a hearing before the Board because many years have passed and the Board is hostile to the teacher. The Appellate Division did not find any evidence to support the teacher’s arguments.

In short, this case serves as a reminder that school districts and boards of education must adhere to all aspects of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, including procedural requirements.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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