Frequently Asked Questions: Legal Processes
Issues other than special education arising under school laws are generally heard and determined in the first instance by the Commissioner of Education. Alleged violations of the School Ethics Act are heard by the School Ethics Commission, and matters involving teaching staff member certification are heard by the State Board of Examiners. Effective August 6, 2012, pursuant to P.L. 2012, C.26, tenure charges are heard and decided by arbitrators.
School law matters other than special education and tenure charges are heard through a contested case process established by statute – N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 et seq. (Administrative Procedure Act) – for all state agencies. In general, an agency head may hear a matter personally and individually but once a contested case is initiated, it is transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) if facts are in dispute or legal issues are complex. At OAL, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will conduct a hearing and issue a report called an "initial decision," which will contain recommend findings of fact and conclusions of law to the agency head transmitting the case. The agency head then makes the final decision in the matter, following review of the record and consideration of the parties' exceptions to the ALJ recommendations.
In most education cases, the Commissioner is the agency head who receives, transmits and decides the matter. However, the School Ethics Commission serves as agency head in school ethics cases and makes the final determination as to whether the School Ethics Act has been violated. In these cases, the Commissioner's role is to review and make the final decision on the penalty recommended by the Commission for any violations found. For cases involving teacher certification, the State Board of Examiners generally acts as the agency head.
As of July 7, 2008, School Ethics Commission decisions finding a violation of the School Ethics Act and all decisions of the State Board of Examiners are appealable to the Commissioner. The Commissioner's decision constitutes final agency action appealable to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, pursuant to the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey, R. 2:2-3. Prior to enactment of P.L. 2008, c. 36 on July 7, 2008, appeals from final decisions of the Commissioner, the School Ethics Commission and certain decisions of the State Board of Examiners were heard and decided by the State Board of Education, which issued a final administrative agency decision appealable to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.