HomeExaminerExaminer NewsArguments to continue in school legal action

Arguments to continue in school legal action

By Matthew Sockol
Staff Writer

A judge has ruled that the Millstone Township K-8 School District is not legally violating its send-receive relationship with the Upper Freehold Regional School District by paying the tuition of Millstone Township residents who attend Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver.

During the 2016-17 school year, about 19 students who live in Millstone Township are attending Red Bank Regional High School, according to school officials.

Millstone Township and Upper Freehold Regional have a long-standing relationship in which students of high school age who reside in Millstone can attend Allentown High School in the Upper Freehold Regional School District.

In April, the Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education filed legal action against the Millstone Board of Education. The issue at hand concerns the Millstone board paying tuition for Millstone residents who enroll in specialized programs at Red Bank Regional.

Upper Freehold Regional claims the payment of that tuition is unlawful and is requesting New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington to order Millstone to no longer send and Red Bank Regional to no longer receive students whose tuition is paid for by Millstone.

Under state law, a board of education that does not provide a particular high school course of study may pay to send a student who resides in the district to a high school in a district that offers the course of study the student seeks.

According to legal documents pertaining to the case, Millstone maintains that under this statute, it is legally sending students to Red Bank Regional because Upper Freehold Regional does not provide a course of study in the areas in which Millstone residents are enrolled.

The Millstone residents attending Red Bank Regional are enrolled in the school’s Academy of Finance, Academy of Information Technology, Academy of Engineering, Academy of Visual and Performing Arts and culinary program, according to the legal documents.

The statute was a prominent topic in motions for summary decision filed by Upper Freehold Regional and Millstone.

In Upper Freehold Regional’s motion, the board argued that the statute does not apply to Millstone because it does not have its own high school and it must receive approval from the education commissioner to modify its send-receive relationship; Millstone has no authority to send students to Red Bank Regional because Red Bank Regional is not a vocational school; and regardless of whether the statute is applicable, Upper Freehold Regional provides instruction in the courses of studies pursued by the Millstone residents at Red Bank Regional.

In Millstone’s motion, the board argued that the statute is applicable to its district and continued its assertion that Upper Freehold does not provide instruction in the courses of studies that Millstone residents have enrolled in at Red Bank Regional.

On Sept. 29, Administrative Law Judge Sarah G. Crowley denied the motions for summary decision. In her ruling, Crowley concluded that the statute is applicable to Millstone and therefore Millstone is not in legal violation of its send-receive relationship with Upper Freehold Regional by paying the tuition of the Millstone residents attending Red Bank Regional. The judge also concluded that in accordance with the statute, Millstone does not need permission from the education commissioner to send students to another district.

According to Crowley, there is nothing in the statute which indicates it does not apply to a district in a send-receive relationship and it would not be logical to prevent sending districts from having the right to send students to a specialty high school. Crowley also made note of a previous case where the education commissioner and an administrative law judge found that the statute applied to a sending district.

In denying the motions for summary decision, Crowley concluded that a material issue of fact exists as to what constitutes a course of study and to whether what Upper Freehold Regional and Red Bank Regional provide constitutes a course of study in the five disciplines pursued by the Millstone residents at Red Bank Regional.

In accordance with her conclusion, Crowley ordered that the matter between Upper Freehold Regional and Millstone proceed to a hearing on the issues of fact presented in the matter.

Crowley’s order may be reviewed by Harrington.

Upper Freehold Regional is appealing Crowley’s decision to Harrington and asserting that the acting education commissioner has good cause to review the judge’s order; that Crowley incorrectly extended the statute to the case contrary to the Legislature’s intent; and that Crowley misapplied the law regarding summary decision motions.

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