A state Administrative Law Judge and the acting state Commissioner of Education have ruled that the Ocean Township Board of Education does not have to pay a $1,000 fine over a lawsuit filed against the district for a former student survey policy.
“The district complied with everything once the problem was discovered so why would we be penalized for complying? To spend taxpayer’s dollars on a fine- what is the point of that? And I am very pleased the commissioner saw it that way and I hope this is never an issue again,” Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools James Stefankowicz said last week.
The plaintiffs requested that the fine be increased to more than $1,000 to discourage other school districts from making the same mistake, their attorney James T. Hundley said.
Hundley said last week that acting-state Commissioner of Education Kimberly Harrington may not have the discretion to remove the fine as recommended by the judge.
He said the several plaintiffs in the case would have to appeal that decision to the Superior Appellate Court but that action could be costly.
“We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.
On Sept. 8, 2015 Administrative Law Judge Susan M. Scarola ruled that the school board violated the New Jersey written consent requirement on notifying parents that their child could opt-out on a survey.
In this case, an “Attitudes and Behaviors Survey” was planned to be administered to sixth, ninth and twelfth-grade students in 2014, asking them to reveal information on mental or psychological problems; their sexual behavior and attitudes; and on illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating or demeaning behavior. The survey was eventually given only to sixth-grade students but those surveys were subsequently destroyed.
Several Ocean Township parents filed a lawsuit in January, 2015 against the school district for administering the survey without the proper parental consent, or non-consent, for their child to take the survey.
The lawsuit contended the school board acted illegally by not receiving prior written informed consent from a parent or legal guardian at least two weeks in advance of the survey, as required by state law, or by administering the survey to children whose parents did not return the opt-out notice.
Stefankowicz said that he thinks is was the right decision by the judge to remove the $1,000 fine.
“And I applaud Harrington and the judge. Our position was that once the survey became an issue we completely complied with everything that was requested of us. We updated our policy on surveys, destroyed the old ones, and made sure any future surveys will be done right,” he said.