Parts of our State have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Many students and their families remain displaced, and some schools are still unable to open. Many school days were lost early in the school year and now winter has arrived in New Jersey. School districts may yet experience unanticipated events such as snow, broken heating systems, broken water pipes, loss of electricity, and other unforseen emergencies that could cause a district close schools at any time during the school year. The question of whether the State will waive the 180-day school day requirement this year remains unanswered.1 As we continue to watch and wait to see how the remainder of the year unfolds, this is an opportune time for administrators to re-familiarize themselves with the law relative to school closings and the impact on the school calendar.
N.J.S.A. 18A:25-3 provides that:
. . . [n]o teaching staff member shall be required to perform his duties on any day declared by law to be a public holiday and no deduction shall be made from such member’s salary by reason of the fact that such a public holiday happens to be a school day and any term of any contract made with such member which is in violation of this section shall be void.
According to N.J.S.A. 36:1-1, there are twelve public holidays in New Jersey:
- • January 1 (New Year’s Day);
- • The third Monday in January (Martin Luther King’s Birthday);
* Lincoln’s Birthday ( Lincoln’s Birthday has been eliminated for New Jersey State Agencies and Employees)
- • The third Monday in February (Washington’s Birthday);
- • Good Friday;
- • The last Monday in May (Memorial Day);
- • July 4 (Independence Day);
- • The first Monday in September (Labor Day);
- • The second Monday in October (Columbus Day);
- • Any general election day;
- • November 11 (Veteran’s Day);
- • The fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day); and
- • December 25 (Christmas Day)
Whenever the holiday falls on the Sunday, the following Monday is deemed to be the public holiday. Id. However, if the holiday falls on a Saturday, teaching staff members are not permitted observance of the holiday on Friday. Rumson-Fair Haven Educ. Assoc. v. Board of Educ. of the Rumson-Fair Haven Reg. H.S. Dist., 1984 S.L.D. 166. Saturdays and Sundays are also deemed to be legal holidays. N.J.S.A. 36:1-1 and –1.1. The foregoing list of public holidays may change as ordered by the Governor of New Jersey or the President of the United States.
In addition to the above holidays, all full-time teaching staff members are permitted to attend the annual convention of the New Jersey Education Association for no more than two days per year. N.J.S.A. 18A:31-2. Any teaching staff member who attends the conference must receive his/her full salary, upon submission to the board secretary, a certificate of attendance signed by the executive secretary of the association.
In prior years in which districts faced multiple closings, they have been tempted to rearrange the school calendar and schedule classes on one of the legal holidays set forth above. While this concept may provide an easy way to meet the required number of school days, it is important to note that no district may require its teaching staff members to report to work on any of the days listed above, though teachers may voluntarily report to work on those days. A board may, however, require staff members to make up holiday absences. Dohm v. Bd. of Educ. of West Milford, 1983 S.L.D. 13; Middletown Township Educ. Assoc. v. Middletown Twp. Bd. of Educ., C. #182-87 (July 14, 1987). Clearly, individual agreements with each district’s negotiations unit will impact how each district manages holiday work schedules.
Generally, the establishment of the school calendar is a managerial prerogative and, therefore, not negotiable. However, the terms and conditions of employment arising as impact issues due to calendar changes are mandatorily negotiable. Piscataway Twp. Educ. Assoc. v. Piscataway Twp. Bd. of Educ., 307 N.J. Super. 263 (App. Div. 1998), certif. denied 156 N.J. 385 (1998), on remand PERC #99-39, 24 NJPER 520 (¶29242 October 27, 1998). While a board may have a managerial prerogative to change the school calendar and set staffing levels, the school district must negotiate with the association over the impact that the change in calendar brings to alleviate any “severe consequences” employees may face as a result of the change.
In anticipation of the need to make adjustments to the calendar due to unplanned school closures, many school districts now designate contingency dates in which school will be held, and days off will be cancelled, in the event all snow days have been exhausted. In the event that a district did not set aside any contingency days on its calendar, then prior to asking teaching staff members to work during a public holiday, or to change their vacation plans, administrators should review the collective negotiations agreements together with the board attorney or labor counsel.
The emergency conditions created by Hurricane Sandy did not change prior precedent. For example, the New Jersey Department of Education has indicated that whether teachers who could not travel to school due to blocked roads or closed public transportation can take a sick day or personal day, was a school district determination. Only after a thorough review of the applicable negotiated agreements can administrators chart the best course in having their districts make up the unplanned absences. When calendar questions arise, it is always best to contact your board attorney.