ELC Files Suit over NJDOE Failure to Move on Emergent Repairs in Urban Schools
April 25, 2012
Education Law Center (ELC) has commenced legal action against the NJ Department of Education (DOE) for the agency’s failure to promptly review and approve hundreds of emergency health and safety projects in urban school buildings across the state, as required under the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (EFCFA) and the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings.
ELC filed the action on behalf of the thousands of children who, as a result of the DOE’s inaction, are attending school in buildings with unsafe, unhealthy and dangerous conditions, including leaky roofs; crumbing facades; and inadequate heating, fire safety and other basic systems.
In June 2011, after a nearly eighteen month shutdown of the school construction program, the DOE asked the 31 urban or “SDA districts” to submit applications for emergent projects for review and approval by the agency. In response, the SDA districts sought approval for 716 conditions in existing school buildings in need of emergent repair. An emergent repair is defined by the law as a condition “so injurious or hazardous that it causes an imminent peril to the health and safety of students and staff.” Emergent repairs must be performed by the State through the DOE and the Schools Development Authority (SDA).
Under the EFCFA law and regulations, the DOE is required to promptly do site inspections and certify if an emergent condition exists. The agency is then required to review and approve the repair project on an “expedited basis.” Once the DOE approves the project, the SDA is obligated to do the repair work as quickly as possible.
Almost a year since submitting their repair requests, the SDA districts are still waiting for the DOE to make decisions on the projects. While the DOE issued so-called “status determination” letters to districts in March – identifying 76 of approximately 716 projects submitted as “potential” emergent projects – the Department did not issue any final decision on the projects and has provided no timeline for when those decisions will be made and, more importantly, when these unsafe and dangerous conditions will be addressed.
Greg Little, partner, and several associates at the NY law firm of White & Case are working with ELC on this issue pro bono because of the severity of the situation.
“The law clearly requires the state to address hazardous school conditions and almost nothing has been done in the last two years,” Mr. Little said. “Every school day thousands of children, teachers and other staff using SDA school buildings where these emergent conditions exist face an imminent threat to their health and safety.”
The petition was filed in the Office of Administrative Law and will be reviewed by the Commissioner of Education.
Policy and Outreach Coordinator