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:
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.
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:
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:
In addition to the above, there are special regulatory requirements that pertain to the following types of requests/filings before the Commissioner:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
As of July 7, 2008, all Commissioner’s decisions are final agency decisions appealable to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.
New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 18A:38-1 and N.J.A.C. 6A:22, requires school districts to provide a free public education to students between the ages of 5 and 20, and to certain students under 5 and over 20 as specified in other applicable law, who are: