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STATE BOARD ADOPTS RULES ON STUDENT CONDUCT AND DISCIPLINE

The NJ State Board of Education has adopted regulations governing student discipline and conduct in New Jersey public schools. The rules are designed to address the wide variation in disciplinary practices throughout the state, and to provide basic standards all districts must follow.

The new rules require every district to develop, publicize and implement a code of student conduct addressing both expectations for student behavior and positive student development. The code must be developed with parent, student and community input, and reviewed and updated annually. Every district must issue an annual public report on the effectiveness of its code. Above all, the code must foster student well-being and support a civil, safe environment conducive to learning.

The rules also codify due process protections for students; require the use of alternative education prior to expulsion; and address issues such as attendance and bullying and harassment.

In response to comments by Education Law Center (ELC), the State Board is considering whether to expand the code to cover preschoolers, and to propose amendments to address areas that were overlooked. In its formal response to ELC’s comments, the State Board indicates that amendments will be forthcoming to establish criteria for notification to parents of disciplinary action; the provision of lists of witnesses and witness statements to students prior to disciplinary hearings; requiring policies and protections for denials of academic credit for absenteeism; and requiring support for victims and corrective action for systemic bullying and harassment problems.

The new rules, however, place improper limits on the right of expelled students to alternative education. While the State Board has previously ruled that expelled students can receive alternative education until age 20, the new rules allow a district to end educational services altogether to students who misbehave while in an alternative program. In addition, the new rules allow districts to choose between in- and out-of-school instruction, again contrary to prior rulings.

"A student cannot knowingly and voluntarily waive his or her fundamental right to an education through his or her conduct," stated ELC senior attorney Elizabeth Athos. "There are many good aspects to the state’s discipline regulations, but when it comes to educating the most troubled and challenging of New Jersey’s students, the State has more work to do."

For more information, contact Elizabeth Athos at eathos@edlawcenter.org, or 973-624-1815, ext 20.

Prepared: September 26, 2005

Copyright © 2005 Education Law Center. All Rights Reserved.