New Jersey Department of Education

Controversies and Disputes

Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is a controversy or dispute under the state’s school laws?

A controversy or dispute under the state’s school laws arises when one party alleges that another has violated state statutes governing education (Title 18A) or rules of the State Board of Education, and seeks a legal ruling from the Commissioner to resolve the dispute.  Typical parties in school law disputes include parents, who may file on their own behalf and/or on behalf of their minor children; adult students; school officials and employees; boards of education and board members; charter schools; private schools for the handicapped; and, in cases where decisions of Department officials are appealed to the Commissioner, the New Jersey Department of Education.

Common types of cases include disputes regarding the following:

  • student discipline;
  • student residency/domicile status/homelessness;
  • tenure/seniority claims;
  • abuse of discretion by local boards of education;
  • severance of sending-receiving relationships;
  • transportation disputes;
  • appeals of NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) decisions;
  • disputes regarding payment of tuition or state funding; or 
  • appeals of licensure/certification issues.

2. Types of matters not handled through Controversies and Disputes:

  • Special education disputes (see the Office of Special Education)
  • School ethics complaints (see the School Ethics Commission)
  • Issues in the classroom, school, or district.

    There are various levels of your school system – classroom teachers, principals, the superintendent, and the local board of education.  Each has different areas of responsibility. The following will guide you to the person most able to assist you:

    1. Classroom-related concerns: If you have any matters related to your child’s classroom such as poor academic performance, behavior issues, or difficulty interacting with peers, make an appointment with the teacher to discuss the matter.  Work with the teacher, but if the problem cannot be resolved, request a meeting with the principal.
    2. School-related concerns:  If you have issues with the administration of the school, such as quality of meals, condition of the facility, extra-curricular activities, receiving school information, obtaining Title I supplemental services, or getting a special education evaluation, make an appointment with the principal.
    3. District concerns:  If you have issues related to the operation of your school district, such as unresponsiveness to your requests by the teacher or principal, hours of instruction, starting times, school attendance boundaries, transportation routes, etc., make an appointment with the superintendent.
    4. Concerns about the school district policies or governance - The board of education hires the superintendent and approves other personnel.  The board sets the policies for the district.  The superintendent administers the policies for the board.  If you have issues that you think would require a change of district policy or you have concerns about the general governance of the district, these matters should come to the board’s attention.  You could write or e-mail the individual board members or speak about the issue at the public forum at a board meeting.
    What can the state do?
    If you have been unable to resolve issues by navigating the four local levels, there are several ways to bring issues to the attention of the Department of Education.  Every county has an office with personnel who can help resolve issues if you have exhausted all avenues in the district.  There is a directory of county offices at http://www.state.nj.us/education/counties/
    A complete listing of matters that may be brought to the department can be found at: https://www.state.nj.us/education/legal/lawandpolicy/
  • Appeals of investigations and compliance with criminal history record check laws (see the Office of Compliance Investigation)
  • Claims of employment discrimination (see the Division on Civil Rights
  • Matters involving negotiated agreements or the collective bargaining process (See the Public Employment Relations Commission)
  • School employee pensions (see the Division of Pensions in the Department of Treasury)
  • Open Public Records Act (see the Government Records Council)
  • Open Public Meetings Act, or “Sunshine Law” violations, are heard in Superior Court.
  • Appeals regarding teaching staff members’ certification (see the State Board of Examiners)

Effective August 6, 2012, pursuant to P.L. 2012, C.26, tenure charges are heard and decided by arbitrators, not the Commissioner of Education. The Commissioner's role is limited to determining whether the charges are sufficient, if true, to warrant removal or reduction in salary of the teaching staff member. The Commissioner then assigns the case to an arbitrator for adjudication.

3. How to initiate an appeal to the Commissioner:

A party may file a dispute with the Commissioner within 90 days (less where a specific law so requires) of receipt of notice of final action, by filing a Petition of Appeal with the Office of Controversies and Disputes according to the procedures detailed in N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.1. et seq.  A package of informational materials and sample forms is available under forms.

A standard Petition of Appeal includes: (1) the petition, (2) a verification, and (3) proof that petitioner has served the respondent with a copy of the petition, as follows:

  • Petition: A petition is a written document, which includes the following information:
    • Name, address, telephone number and, if available, email address and fax number of petitioner and the respondent (generally, the board of education);
    • The specific allegation(s), and the facts supporting them, which constitute the basis of the controversy;
    • A statement of the relief which petitioner is seeking; and
    • Signature of petitioner, or his/her attorney, if applicable.
  • Verification: Additionally, the petitioner must write or type the statement contained in N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.4 attesting to the truthfulness of the allegations set forth in the Petition of Appeal; the statement must be signed by petitioner and notarized. 
  • Proof of Service: Finally, the petitioner must serve a copy of the petition on each respondent and must submit to the Office of Controversies and Disputes, along  with the Petition of Appeal, proof that each respondent was served. 

Whenever the Department of Education, or one of the offices within the Department; the School Ethics Commission; or the State Board of Examiners is a named party, proof of service on the Office of Attorney General is required.  Service must be directed to the Department of Law, PO Box 112, Trenton, New Jersey 08625, Attn: Education Section.

Such proof may be in any one of the following forms:

  • An acknowledgment of service signed by the attorney for respondent, or signed and acknowledged by the board or its agent;
  • A sworn affidavit of the person making service (mailing or delivering the petition);
  • A certificate of service signed by the attorney making service; or
  • A receipt (or copy) of certified mailing to the board secretary or the board's attorney.

In addition to the above, there are special regulatory requirements that pertain to the following types of requests/filings before the Commissioner:

  • requests for declaratory rulings;
  • tenure charges;
  • uncontested applications for severance of sending-receiving relationships;
  • appeals from decisions of the NJSIAA.

The requirements for filing a petition related to these matters are set forth in the pertinent sections of N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.1. et seq. 

4. How to initiate an emergent application before the Commissioner:

If relief is sought on an emergency basis (i.e., a decision must be made within a short period of time), the petitioner must additionally file a motion accompanied by a memorandum addressing the standard for granting such relief pursuant to Crowe v. DeGioia, 90 N.J. 126 (1982); see N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.6.  This means the petitioner must demonstrate that:   

  • The petitioner will suffer irreparable harm if the requested relief is not granted;
  • The legal right underlying petitioner's claim is settled;
  • The petitioner has a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the underlying claim; and
  • When the equities and interests of the parties are balanced, the petitioner will suffer greater harm than the respondent will suffer if the requested relief is not granted.

5. Timeframe for filing a petition of appeal with the Commissioner:

Unless applicable law provides a shorter time frame – there is a 90-day filing deadline for petitions of appeal, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.3(i).  Please note that efforts to resolve a matter informally do not generally absolve petitioners from compliance with this deadline, and failure to observe it may result in dismissal of a petition.

Submissions received after the close of Department business at 4:15 p.m. will be deemed filed the next business day.

6. Where should petitions of appeal be filed?

Papers are to be submitted to the following address:

Commissioner of Education
c/o Director of Office of Controversies and Disputes
New Jersey Department of Education
P.O. Box 500, Trenton, NJ  08625.

With prior permission of the Bureau of Controversies and Disputes, and up to a limit of 10 pages, a petition may also be faxed to (609) 292-4333, with the hard copy to follow by mail.

7. What happens after an appeal is filed?

Filing a Petition of Appeal initiates a "contested case proceeding" where the petitioner will bear the burden of proving the allegations made in the petition through presentation of evidence and argument.  In most cases, the alleged violator ("respondent") will be required to answer the petitioner's allegations within 20 days, and the matter will be sent to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for hearing of testimony and argument and consideration of evidence by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act (52:14B-1).

At the conclusion of OAL proceedings, the ALJ issues an initial decision recommending findings of fact and conclusions of law to the Commissioner.  The Commissioner then has 45 days from the filing of the initial decision to review the matter, receive exceptions from the parties, and issue a final decision adopting, rejecting or modifying the initial decision of the ALJ. 

 8. Appealing a Commissioner's decision:

As of July 7, 2008, all Commissioner’s decisions are final agency decisions appealable to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.


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