School Ethics Commission

18A:12-21.   Short title

This act shall be known and may be cited as the "School Ethics Act."

L.1991,c.393,s.1.

18A:12-22.    Findings, declarations

The Legislature find and declares:

a. In our representative form of government it is essential that the conduct of members of local boards of education and local school administrators hold the respect and confidence of the people.  These board members and administrators must avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust or which creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated.

b. To ensure and preserve public confidence, school board members and local school administrators should have the benefit of specific standards to guide their conduct and of some disciplinary mechanism to ensure the uniform maintenance of those standards among them.

L.1991,c.393,s.2.

18A:12-23.    Definitions

For the purposes of this act, unless the context clearly requires a different meaning:

"Administrator" means any officer, other than a board member, or employee of a local school district who (i) holds a position which requires a certificate that authorizes the holder to serve as school administrator, principal, or school business administrator; or (ii) holds a position which does not require that the person hold any type of certificate but is responsible for making recommendations regarding hiring or the purchase or acquisition of any property or services by the local school district; or (iii) holds a position which requires a certificate that authorizes the holder to serve as supervisor and who is responsible for making recommendations regarding hiring or the purchase or acquisition of any property or services by the local school district;

"Board member" means any person holding membership, whether by election or appointment, on any board of education other than the State Board of Education;

"Business" means any corporation, partnership, firm, enterprise, franchise, association, trust, sole proprietorship, union, political organization, or other legal entity but shall not include a local school district or any other public entity;

"Commission" means the School Ethics Commission established pursuant to section 7 of this act;

"Commissioner" means the Commissioner of Education;

"Interest" means the ownership or control of more than 10% of the profits, assets, or stock of a business but shall not include the control of assets in a labor union;

"Local school district" means any local or regional school district established pursuant to chapter 8 or chapter 13 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes and any jointure commission, county vocational school, county special services district, educational services commission, educational research and demonstration center, environmental education center, and educational information and resource center;

"Member of immediate family" means the spouse or dependent child of a school official residing in the same household;

"Political organization" means a "political committee" or a "continuing political committee" as those terms are defined in "The New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act," P.L.1973, c.83 (C.19:44A-1 et seq.);

"Relative" means the spouse, natural or adopted child, parent, or sibling of a school official;

"School official" means a board member, an employee or officer of the New Jersey School Boards Association, but not including any member of the secretarial, clerical or maintenance staff of the association, or an administrator; and

"Spouse" means the person to whom a school official is legally married under New Jersey law.

L.1991,c.393,s.3; amended 1995,c.14,s.1.

18A:12-23.1  Applicability of "School Ethics Act" to charter school administrators, trustees.

1. The provisions of the "School Ethics Act," P.L.1991, c.393 (C.18A:12-21 et seq.) shall apply to an administrator and a member of the board of trustees of a charter school that is established pursuant to P.L.1995, c.426 (C.18A:36A-1 et seq.).

L.2004,c.131,s.1.

18A:12-24.  Conflicts of interest

  1. No school official or member of his immediate family shall have an interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest;

  2. No school official shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages or employment for himself, members of his immediate family or others;

  3. No school official shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment. No school official shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he or a member of his immediate family has a personal involvement that is or creates some benefit to the school official or member of his immediate family;

  4. No school official shall undertake any employment or service, whether compensated or not, which might reasonably be expected to prejudice his independence of judgment in the exercise of his official duties;

  5. No school official, or member of his immediate family, or business organization in which he has an interest, shall solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing him, directly or indirectly, in the discharge of his official duties.  This provision shall not apply to the solicitation or acceptance of contributions to the campaign of an announced candidate for elective public office, if the school official has no knowledge or reason to believe that the campaign contribution, if accepted, was given with the intent to influence the school official in the discharge of his official duties;

  6. No school official shall use, or allow to be used, his public office or employment, or any information, not generally available to the members of the public, which he receives or acquires in the course of and by reason of his office or employment, for the purpose of securing financial gain for himself, any member of his immediate family, or any business organization with which he is associated;

  7. No school official or business organization in which he has an interest shall represent any person or party other than the school board or school district in connection with any cause, proceeding, application or other matter pending before the school district in which he serves or in any proceeding involving the school district in which he serves  or, for officers or employees of the New Jersey School Boards Association, any school district. This provision shall not be deemed to prohibit representation within the context of official labor union or similar representational responsibilities;

  8. No school official shall be deemed in conflict with these provisions if, by reason of his participation in any matter required to be voted upon, no material or monetary gain accrues to him as a member of any business, profession, occupation or group, to any greater extent than any gain could reasonably be expected to accrue to any other member of that business, profession, occupation or group;
  9. No elected member shall be prohibited from making an inquiry for information on behalf of a constituent, if no fee, reward or other thing of value is promised to, given to or accepted by the member or a member of his immediate family, whether directly or indirectly, in return therefor;

  10. Nothing shall prohibit any school official, or members of his immediate family, from representing himself, or themselves, in negotiations or proceedings concerning his, or their, own interests; and

  11. Employees of the New Jersey School Boards Association shall not be precluded from providing assistance, in the normal course of their duties, to boards of education in the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement regardless of whether a member of their immediate family is a member of, or covered by, a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a Statewide union with which a board of education is negotiating.

L.1991,c.393,s.4; amended 1995, c.14, s.2; 1999, c.256.

18A:12-24.1   Code of Ethics for School Board Members.

A school board member shall abide by the following Code of Ethics for School Board Members:

  1. I will uphold and enforce all laws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, and court orders pertaining to schools.  Desired changes shall be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures.

  2. I will make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of children and will seek to develop and maintain public schools that meet the individual needs of all children regardless of their ability, race, creed, sex, or social standing.

  3. I will confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them.

  4. I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run.

  5. I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.

  6. I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.

  7. I will hold confidential all matters pertaining to the schools which, if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the schools.  In all other matters, I will provide accurate information and, in concert with my fellow board members, interpret to the staff the aspirations of the community for its school.

  8. I will vote to appoint the best qualified personnel available after consideration of the recommendation of the chief administrative officer.

  9. I will support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties.

  10. I will refer all complaints to the chief administrative officer and will act on the complaints at public meetings only after failure of an administrative solution.

L.2001,c.178,s.5.

18A:12-25.    Disclosure statements of employment, contracts or business with schools

  1. On a form to be prescribed by the commission and to be filed annually with the commission, each school official shall state:

    (1)  whether any relative of the school official or any other person related to the school official by marriage is employed by the school district with which the school official holds office or employment or, for officers or employees of the New Jersey School Boards Association, any school district, and, if so, the name and position of each such relative;

    (2)  whether the school official or a relative is a party to a contract with the school district with which the school official holds office or employment   or, for officers or employees of the New Jersey School Boards Association, any school district, and, if so, the nature of the contract; and

    (3)  whether the school official or a relative is employed by, receives compensation from, or has an interest in any business which is a party to a contract with the school district with which the school official holds office or employment or, for officers or employees of the New Jersey School Boards Association, any school district, and, if so, the name of each such business.

  2. Each statement shall be signed by the school official filing it, and the school official's signature shall constitute a representation of the accuracy of the contents of the statement.

  3. A school official who fails to file a statement or who files a statement containing information which the school official knows to be false shall be subject to reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal pursuant to the procedures established in section 9 of P.L.1991, c.393 (C.18A:12-29).  Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prevent or limit criminal prosecution.

  4. All statements filed pursuant to this section shall be retained by the commission as public records.

L.1991,c.393,s.5; amended 1995,c.14,s.3

18A:12-26.   Financial disclosure statement

  1. Each school official shall annually file a financial disclosure statement with the School Ethics Commission.  All financial disclosure statements filed pursuant to this act shall include the following information which shall specify, where applicable, the name and address of each source and the school official's position:

    (1)  Each source of income, earned or unearned, exceeding $2,000 received by the school official or a member of his immediate family during the preceding calendar year.  Individual client fees, customer receipts or commissions on transactions received through a business organization need not be separately reported as sources of income.  If a publicly traded security or interest derived from a financial institution is the source of income, the security or interest derived from a financial institution need not be reported unless the school official or member of his immediate family has an interest in the business organization or financial institution;

    (2)  Each source of fees and honorariums having an aggregate amount exceeding $250 from any single source for personal appearances, speeches or writings received by the school official or a member of his immediate family during the preceding calendar year;

    (3)  Each source of gifts, reimbursements or prepaid expenses having an aggregate value exceeding $250 from any single source, excluding relatives, received by the school official or a member of his immediate family during the preceding calendar year; and

    (4)  The name and address of all business organizations in which the school official or a member of his immediate family had an interest during the preceding calendar year.

  2. The commission shall prescribe a financial disclosure statement form for filing purposes. Initial financial disclosure statements shall be filed within 90 days following the effective date of this act. Thereafter, statements shall be filed on or before April 30th each year.

  3. All financial disclosure statements filed shall be public records.

L.1991,c.393,s.6.

18A:12-27.    School Ethics Commission

  1. There is hereby established in the State Department of Education a commission to be known as the "School Ethics Commission."  The commission shall consist of nine members, not more than five of whom shall be from the same political party: two shall be board members; two shall be school administrators; and five shall be persons who are not school officials.  All members shall be appointed by the Governor and shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor.

  2. Members of the commission shall serve without compensation but shall be reimbursed for necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties under this act.

  3. No member of the commission shall serve on or campaign for any office of a political organization during membership on the commission.

  4. All members shall serve for a term of three years, except that for the members initially appointed, one board member, one administrator, and one public member shall be appointed for a term of three years; one board member and two public members shall be appointed for a term of two years; and one administrator and two public members shall be appointed for a term of one year.

  5. Each member shall serve until the member's successor has been appointed and qualified.  If a school official appointed to the commission ceases to be a school official, the person's appointment to the commission shall expire on the next succeeding July 1, or when the person's successor has been appointed and qualified, whichever occurs earlier.  However, the membership of a school official who has been removed from office for official misconduct shall immediately cease upon such removal.

  6. Any vacancy occurring in the membership of the commission shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment for the unexpired term.

  7. The members of the commission shall, by majority vote, select from among themselves one member to serve as chairperson for a term not to exceed one year.

L.1991,c.393,s.7.

18A:12-28. Staff appointments; duties; powers

  1. The commission may appoint professional employees and clerical staff and may incur expenses which are necessary to carry out the provisions of this act within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to it for that purpose.  All appointments shall be made in accordance with the provisions of Title 11A of the New Jersey Statutes.

  2. In order to carry out the provisions of this act, the commission shall have the power to issue advisory opinions, receive complaints filed pursuant to section 9 of this act, receive and retain disclosure statements filed pursuant to sections 5 and 6 of this act, conduct investigations, hold hearings, and compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents as it may deem necessary and relevant to such matter under investigation.  The members of the commission and persons appointed by it for this purpose are empowered to administer oaths and examine witnesses under oath.

  3. A person shall not be excused from testifying or producing evidence on the ground that the testimony or evidence might tend to incriminate the person, but an answer shall not be used or admitted in any proceeding against the person, except in a prosecution for perjury.  The foregoing use immunity shall not be granted without prior written approval of the Attorney General. If use immunity is not granted, the person may be excused from testifying or producing evidence on the ground that the testimony or evidence might tend to incriminate the person.

  4. The commission shall promptly report to the Attorney General any information which indicates the possible violation of any criminal law. 

        L.1991,c.393,s.8.

18A:12-29  Complaint procedures.

  1. Any person, including a member of the commission, may file a complaint alleging a violation of the provisions of this act or the Code of Ethics for School Board Members as set forth in section 5 of P.L.2001, c.178 (C.18A:12-24.1), by submitting it, on a form prescribed by the commission, to the commission.  No complaint shall be accepted by the commission unless it has been signed under oath by the complainant.  If a member of the commission submits the complaint, the member shall not participate in any subsequent proceedings on that complaint in the capacity of a commission member.  If a commission member serves on the school board of, or is employed by, the school district which employs or on whose board the school official named in the complaint serves, the commission member shall not participate in any subsequent proceedings on that complaint.

  2. Upon receipt of a complaint, the commission shall serve a copy of the complaint on each school official named therein and shall provide each named school official with the opportunity to submit a written statement under oath.  The commission shall thereafter decide by majority vote whether probable cause exists to credit the allegations in the complaint.  If the commission decides that probable cause does not exist, it shall dismiss the complaint and shall so notify the complainant and any school official named in the complaint. The dismissal shall constitute final agency action. If the commission determines that probable cause exists, it shall refer the matter to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing to be conducted in accordance with the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), and shall so notify the complainant and each school official named in the complaint.

    In making a determination regarding an alleged violation of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members, the burden of proof shall be on the accusing party to establish factually a violation of the code.  A decision regarding a complaint alleging violations of the code shall be rendered by the commission within 90 days of the receipt of the complaint by the commission.

  3. Upon completion of the hearing, the commission, by majority vote, shall determine whether the conduct complained of constitutes a violation of this act, or in the case of a board member, this act or the code of ethics, or whether the complaint should be dismissed. If a violation is found, the commission shall, by majority vote, recommend to the commissioner the reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal of the school official found to have violated this act, or in the case of a board member, this act or the code of ethics.  The commission shall state in writing its findings of fact and conclusions of law.  The commissioner shall then act on the commission's recommendation regarding the sanction.

  4. Any appeal of the commission's determination regarding a violation of this act, or in the case of a board member, this act or the code of ethics, and of the commissioner's decision regarding the sanction shall be to the State Board of Education in accordance with Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes

  5. If prior to the hearing the commission determines, by majority vote, that the complaint is frivolous, the commission may impose on the complainant a fine not to exceed $500.  The standard for determining whether a complaint is frivolous shall be the same as that provided in subsection b. of section 1 of P.L.1988, c.46 (C.2A:15-59.1).

  6. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections c. and d. of this section, the commission shall be authorized to determine and impose the appropriate sanction including reprimand, censure, suspension or removal of any school official found to have violated this act who is an officer or employee of the New Jersey School Boards Association.  Any action of the commission regarding a violation of P.L.1991, c.393 (C.18A:12-21 et seq.) or the sanction to be imposed in the event that the school official involved is an officer or employee of the New Jersey School Boards Association shall be considered final agency action and an appeal of that action shall be directly to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

L.1991,c.393,s.9; amended 1995, c.14, s.4; 2001, c.178, s.4

18A:12-29.1 Appeal of determination of School Ethics Commission.

  1. Notwithstanding the provisions of any law or regulation to the contrary, any appeal of a determination of the School Ethics Commission shall be to the Commissioner of Education whose determination shall be a final agency action under the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), and appeal of that action shall be directly to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

L.2008, c.36, s.3.

18A:12-30.    Imposition of sanctions

Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law or regulation to the contrary, the sanctions authorized by this act may be imposed on any school official pursuant to the procedures established in section 9 of this act. However, nothing in this act shall be construed to limit the authority of any board of education or any appointing authority to process charges or complaints pursuant to the procedures contained in Titles 18A or 11A of the New Jersey Statutes.

L.1991,c.393,s.10.

18A:12-31.    Advisory opinions

A school official may request and obtain from the commission an advisory opinion as to whether any proposed activity or conduct would in its opinion constitute a violation of the provisions of this act. Advisory opinions of the commission shall not be made public, except when the commission, by a vote of at least six members, directs that the opinion be made public.  Public advisory opinions shall not disclose the name of the school official.

L.1991,c.393,s.11.

18A:12-32.   Jurisdiction preempted on pending matters

The commission shall not process any complaint, issue a final ruling or issue any advisory opinion on a matter actually pending in any court of law or administrative agency of this State.

L.1991,c.393,s.12.

18A:12-33  Training program; requirements.

  1. Each newly elected or appointed board member shall complete during the first year of the member's first term a training program to be prepared and offered by the New Jersey School Boards Association, in consultation with the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the Department of Education, regarding the skills and knowledge necessary to serve as a local school board member.  The training program shall include information regarding the school district monitoring system established pursuant to P.L.2005, c.235, the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, and the five key components of school district effectiveness on which school districts are evaluated under the monitoring system: instruction and program; personnel; fiscal management; operations; and governance.

    The board member shall complete a training program on school district governance in each of the subsequent two years of the board member's first term.

  2. Within one year after each re-election or re-appointment to the board of education, the board member shall complete an advanced training program to be prepared and offered by the New Jersey School Boards Association.  This advanced training program shall include information on relevant changes to New Jersey school law and other information deemed appropriate to enable the board member to serve more effectively.

  3. The New Jersey School Boards Association shall examine options for providing training programs to school board members through alternative methods such as on-line or other distance learning media or through regional-based training.

  4. Within one year after being newly elected or appointed or being re-elected or re-appointed to the board of education, a board member shall complete a training program on harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools, including a school district's responsibilities under P.L.2002, c.83 (C.18A:37-13 et seq.).  A board member shall be required to complete the program only once.

  5. Training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools shall be provided by the New Jersey School Boards Association, in consultation with recognized experts in school bullying from a cross section of academia, child advocacy organizations, nonprofit organizations, professional associations, and government agencies.

L.1991, c.393, s.13; amended 2007, c.53, s.17; 2010, c.122, s.6.

18A:12-34.    Rules, regulations 

The State Board of Education may promulgate regulations pursuant to the "Administrative Procedures Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), to effectuate the purposes of this act.

L.1991,c.393,s.14.