Jan 4, 2021

And the Band Played On: Commissioner of Education Affirms Board's Directive to Perform Extracurricular Activities on Holidays

By Katherine A. Gilfillan, Esq.

On December 28, 2020, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education issued a decision which protects the long-standing tradition of students participating in extracurricular activities on holidays with designated teaching staff members providing supervision for those activities. Parsippany-Troy Hills Education Association v. Board of Education of the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, OAL Dkt. No. EDU 14555-19; Comm’r decision 294-20. SPSK represented the Board of Education

Since at least 1993, the Parsippany High School and the Parsippany-Hills High School marching bands performed in the Township’s Memorial Day Parade. During that time, district students were led in this Parade by two band directors who received a stipend for their additional services. The marching band handbook mandated that marching band members participate in the Parade.

In 2019, the band directors attempted to withdraw from the parade amidst contentious labor negotiations. After being directed to honor their commitment by the administration, the Education Association, acting on behalf of the band directors, sought a declaration from the Commissioner that the Board’s directive to lead the bands on Memorial Day violated N.J.S.A. 18A:25-3. (That statute protects teaching staff members from being required to perform their duties on a public holiday.) The Commissioner declined the request for declaratory relief and transferred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case.

In a comprehensive opinion, Administrative Law Judge Ellen S. Bass noted that extracurricular duties, by definition, include obligations that take place outside normal school hours. The band directors volunteered for and accepted the stipend for the position, with its attendant job description, and with full knowledge that participation in the Parade was required. In concluding that the statutory language does not reach beyond “teaching duties,” both ALJ Bass and the Commissioner differentiated the duties of teaching staff members from the duties of individuals who supervise extracurricular activities.

N.J.S.A. 18A:25-3 also invalidates any term of any contract which is in contravention of the protections offered by the statute. The Association argued that the Collective Negotiations Agreement (“CNA”) between the parties, which contained a negotiated rate for stipends for teaching staff members, could not contravene the directors’ right to not work on Memorial Day. Looking at the language of the CNA, the Commissioner noted that the staff members’ “teaching staff duties” were limited to “teaching 25-30 periods per week, occurring within a seven-hour work-day, 184 days per year.” Accordingly, the prohibitions and language of N.J.S.A. 18A:25-3 did not apply.

School districts should consult with their board attorney in reviewing collective negotiating agreements, job descriptions for extracurricular activities and district practices in light of this decision.

Should you have any questions regarding the effect of this decision or related issues, please contact the school law attorneys at SPSK.

DISCLAIMER: This Alert is designed to keep you aware of recent developments in the law.  It is not intended to be legal advice, which can only be given after the attorney understands the facts of a particular matter and the goals of the client.