Skip to comments.N.J. appeals court: Ramapo Indian Hills Regional student conduct rules 'overbroad'
Posted on 11/26/2012 10:32:40 AM PST by Coleus
An appellate division panel said Tuesday a Bergen County districts policy for disciplining students for delinquent behavior that occurred off campus was overbroad and exceeded a schools authority.
The opinion upheld a prior ruling by the state education commissioner, who advised the Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School District to revise its policy. Known as Regulation 6145, the disputed policy said students would be temporarily suspended from sports and other extracurricular activities if they were arrested at any time, on campus or off, for allegedly drinking alcohol, using drugs, or violating a criminal statute or municipal ordinance.
When then-Acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks struck down that policy in 2010, she pointed out that under state law, for a school to punish a student for an off-campus offense, the discipline must be necessary to spare the student or others from harm, and the misconduct must have some link to the school environment.
The district appealed. The appellate panel confirmed Tuesday that in order to impose penalties, a district had to show a nexus between the students conduct and the orderly administration of the school. Otherwise, the panel noted, a student could be unfairly suspended because he got a ticket for littering in town.
School Board President Ira Belsky said that after the commissioners 2010 decision, the district clarified its regulations to specify that students would be barred from extra-curricular activities only if the off-campus offense affected safety or well-being on school grounds. He noted, however, that the districts standards for imposing consequences had not changed: If a student was caught with a water bottle full of vodka off-campus, for example, one can reasonably expect it might happen on campus, so the district would still suspend the teen from sports.
We are disappointed with the judgment today but dont see it as impacting the policy we currently have, Belsky said. Asked why the board fought for the old policy when the revised one had the same effect, Belsky said the board attorney offered to keep pursuing victory for a very modest amount. The legal fees spent on the case since the original policy was adopted in 2009 were not immediately available.
Gregory Meese, a Franklin Lakes parent and lawyer who challenged the 24/7 conduct policy, said that if he had billed his professional time on the matter, it would have cost more than $100,000. He said the case began when his daughter, now 20, balked at signing a pledge to obey a handbook that the family thought infringed on its rights. If she misbehaved off campus and it had nothing to do with the school it should be private between us, our child, and if necessary the juvenile justice system, he said. It shouldnt involve the school, whose primary mission is education, not disciplining.
Meese said he was satisfied with the revised policy and hoped the matter was finished. Superintendent C. Lauren Schoen said by email that the board had not yet determined whether to petition the Supreme Court to review this case.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey welcomed Tuesdays ruling, with a release saying that A disciplinary policy that seeks to control a students conduct 24 hours a day, seven days a week threatens the rights of students and parents.
Agreed. Let the police be police, prosecutors be prosecutors and parents be parents. A school district has no authority to do this.