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Paraprofessionals Not Entitled to Automatic Renewal of Employment

A non-tenured, public school teacher is entitled to written notice of non-renewal regarding his or her employment by May 15 each school year if the board of education or charter school wishes to no longer employ that teacher for the following school year. This type of notice also applies to paraprofessionals. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:27-11, a school district or charter school’s failure to provide this non-renewal notice to a non-tenured teaching staff member results in an automatic offer of employment to the teacher for the next school year – but does this right extend to paraprofessionals? The New Jersey Commissioner of Education says no, according to a recent decision issued on May 6, 2016 in Tanner v. Community Charter School of Paterson, OAL Dkt. No. EDU 14408-15, Agency Dkt. No. 203-7/15.

The Community Charter School of Paterson (“Charter School”) hired Rickenya Tanner as a full-time instructional assistant, a paraprofessional as defined by N.J.S.A. 18A:27-10.2(a), for the 2014-2015 school year. As of May 15, 2015, Ms. Tanner received no written notice indicating whether her employment would be renewed for the 2015-2016 school year. On June 1, 2015, Ms. Tanner informed the Charter School in writing that she accepts employment as a paraprofessional for the following school year. Thereafter, the Charter School notified Ms. Tanner on June 12, 2015 that a decision had been made to not renew her employment for the 2015-2016 school year.

In affirming the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision to dismiss Ms. Tanner’s Petition, the Commissioner reasoned that separate, distinct statutes govern the rights of teachers and paraprofessionals. Specifically, while N.J.S.A. 18A:27-10.2(b) requires school districts and charter schools to provide paraprofessionals with written notice regarding renewal of their employment by May 15, no statute triggers an automatic renewal of employment for the next school year if this notice is not provided. The Commissioner rejected Ms. Tanner’s argument that paraprofessionals should be entitled to the same remedy as non-tenured teachers. That is, even though the Charter School did not strictly comply with the notice requirement by informing her after May 15 that she would be non-renewed, Ms. Tanner is not entitled to automatic renewal of her employment as a paraprofessional because no statute affirmatively authorizes this remedy. Essentially, the Commissioner reasoned that the Legislature did not intend to provide non-tenured teachers and paraprofessionals with the same remedies based on their respective statutory schemes. In addition, the Commissioner found that Ms. Tanner failed to plead an implied contract claim, and even if she had, such a claim is beyond the Commissioner’s jurisdiction, as it does not involve a controversy arising under the school laws.

A school district and charter school’s best practices should include providing all non-tenured teachers and paraprofessionals with proper notice of non-renewal by May 15 to avoid ambiguity. For answers to specific questions relating to non-renewal of paraprofessionals and other employees, school districts and charter schools should consult with their board attorney.

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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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