In a decision that undercuts some aspects of Verona schools’ so-called 24/7 policy, a New Jersey appellate court has struck down a Bergen County school policy that tried to impose a wide-ranging code of conduct on students.
In 2009 the Ramapo Indian Hills Regional School District board implemented a rule that let the Bergen County district ban students from sports and extracurricular activities if they were found to be drinking, using drugs or breaking other laws. The school district sought to apply the rule on school grounds, but also off school property and after school.
The Ramapo Indian Hills policy was ruled unlawful in September 2010 and Verona’s BOE had been watching the appeals on the case ever since. The state Department of Education had offered little guidance on the 24/7 policies, which caused further problems. In November 2011 Wayne Hills banned nine high school players from playing in a state sectional football championship after they were arrested for assault. The players appealed to the New Jersey Board of Education but Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf upheld the suspension.
The appellate court decision does not completely bar school boards from acting when student behavior results in a police report. While the court held that state laws don’t grant boards of education “unlimited power” to discipline students, they can act where “there is a close nexus between the misconduct and the school.”
The ruling means the Verona BOE will need to take a fresh look at discipline when it reconvenes next month. “Our role as a Board of Education is to provide a thorough education experience for all, in a setting that maintains the health, safety and well-being of all students,” said BOE President John Quattrocchi in a written response to a question about the appellate court decision. “Well established legislation is clear that the Board can–and does–act consistently where an incident occurs on school time or on school property. This responsibility is clear for incidents on or off campus, during or outside of school hours.”
“This ruling does makes clear that school boards cannot take the role of parents or law-enforcement to act solely to discipline students–unless the incident affects the health, safety or well-being of that or other students,” Quattrocchi added. “The Verona Board has anticipated this ruling and had significant dialogue on the subject and will likely amend our policies in accord with this ruling as is our normal practice.”