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Millstone’ prevails in school litigation

Campers at the Frogbridge Day Camp in Millstone spend their days fishing on August 3, 2017

The New Jersey Commissioner of Education has ruled in favor of the Millstone Township K-8 School District in a legal dispute with the Upper Freehold Regional School District.

The dispute centered on Millstone’s payment of tuition for residents of high school age who attend high school in a district other than Upper Freehold Regional. The commissioner has ruled that Millstone is legally permitted to pay tuition for those students.

Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet issued his final decision order on July 26, concurring with Administrative Law Judge Sarah Crowley’s April 30 initial decision in Millstone’s favor and dismissing Upper Freehold Regional’s appeal of Crowley’s decision.

The two districts have a long-standing relationship in which students of high school age who reside in Millstone Township can attend Allentown High School in the Upper Freehold Regional School District. Upper Freehold Regional charges Millstone $12,433 in tuition for each student and 623 Millstone residents were attending Allentown High School when the litigation began, according to legal documents pertaining to the case.

In 2016, 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 High School, Little Silver.

Millstone residents attending Red Bank Regional High School, according to the legal documents, are enrolled in that school’s Academy of Finance, Academy of Information Technology, Academy of Engineering, and Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. Approximately 20 students from Millstone attend Red Bank Regional and the Millstone board pays $13,900 in tuition for each student.

Upper Freehold Regional claimed the payment of that tuition was unlawful and requested Repollet 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 the legal documents, Millstone maintained that under that 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.

Upper Freehold contested Millstone’s claim and argued that Allentown High School provides instruction in the courses of study the Millstone students are pursuing at Red Bank Regional, according to the legal documents.

Crowley concluded Millstone was permitted to exercise its statutory right send students to the academies at Red Bank Regional because Allentown High School does not have courses of study in the disciplines at issue and Millstone did not abuse its discretion by sending its students to the academies.

In her decision, Crowley found Red Bank Regional provided quantitatively and qualitatively superior courses of study in the disciplines at issue to those offered at Allentown. The judge stated that at Red Bank, there is a sequence of courses in all disciplines, there are more electives in each discipline, the courses in each academy are limited to the students in those academies, the courses are consistently offered every semester, and the academies are all career and technical education approved.

At Allentown, Crowley found that none of programs are career and technical education approved, the majority of the courses are electives that are available to all students, not just those pursuing such a course of study or in such academies, several of the electives were cancelled or not offered due to lack of interest, the courses are not all in a sequence, there are not prerequisites for many of the courses, and many of the courses listed were general courses that are offered in several of the different disciplines as opposed to just the academy being analyzed.

Crowley’s initial decision was appealed by Upper Freehold Regional to Repollet, who was authorized to make a final decision on the matter and to adopt, modify or reject the judge’s decision.

In his final decision, Repollet concurred with Crowley and found that Upper Freehold Regional, which carried the burden of proof to prove that Millstone abused its discretion by arbitrarily and capriciously sending its students to Red Bank, did not meet that burden.

The final decision states that the commissioner did not find any evidence in the record, including the testimony of Upper Freehold Regional’s witnesses, to negate Crowley’s characterization of the courses at Allentown and that Upper Freehold Regional failed to prove Allentown furnishes a course of study in the designated areas.

“In the future, Allentown High School may furnish a course of study in certain areas, but based on the evidence in this record, such claim is not tenable at the present time,” Repollet wrote. “Further, there is nothing in the extensive record to indicate that Millstone’s decision to pay the tuition for its students to attend Red Bank was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Accordingly, the recommended decision of [Crowley] is adopted as the final decision in this matter and the petition of appeal (by Upper Freehold Regional) is hereby dismissed.”

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