Climate Change or (Lack Thereof) and
the Impact on School Calendars
Astronomical winter officially arrives in New Jersey every year on December 21 and it departs on March 19. However, as many members are painfully aware, the effects of winter may begin much earlier and continue much later into the school year. Whether the unpredictable effects of winter in New Jersey are due to climate change, volcanic eruption, or by some faulty spin of the Wheel by the goddess Fortuna, is beyond the scope of this Legal Corner. Regardless of the cause, as school administrators, NJASA members are required to plan for any adverse effects.
In any given year, there are numerous school districts that are forced to have unplanned school closings. In addition to those missed school days necessitated by weather, other closures may be necessary at any time of the year in response to events such as broken heating systems, bursting water pipes, loss of electricity, safety concerns, and other unforeseen emergencies. By the time school administrators are contemplating next year’s staffing and are planning end of year festivities, there are normally a few school districts faced with the reality that unplanned closures may cause them to have less than the mandated number of school days.
It is important to remember that, the school year in New Jersey is mandated to begin on July 1, and end on June 30.1 As a result, students and staff may not make up missed days after June 30. Schools are required to be open for at least180 days in order to receive state aid.2 To be counted as an “official” day, a school day shall consist of not less than four hours of actual instruction, except that in an approved kindergarten one continuous session of 2 ½ hours may be considered as a full day.3 Recess and lunch periods do not count toward the time of actual instruction.
Therefore, when faced with unplanned closures, administrators are often required to engage in some creativity in adjusting the school schedule. In this regard, it is important to remember that there are certain days that teaching staff cannot be required to work. 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);
- February 12 (Lincoln’s Birthday);4
- 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.5 However, if the holiday falls on a Saturday, teaching staff members are not permitted observance of the holiday on Friday.6 Saturdays and Sundays are also deemed to be legal holidays.7 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.8 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, some districts have rearranged the school calendar and have scheduled classes on one or more 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.9 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.10 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, or in the event that districts exceed the number of contingency days and need to make further adjustments to the 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. 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.
In an effort to assist districts in fulfilling their obligations to open schools for at least 180 days, the Legislature has previously proposed legislation to allow districts to apply to the Commissioner for permission to utilize virtual instruction.11 However, such legislation has gained no traction to date. Administrators who experience excessive closure issues are advised to contact their NJASA attorney or board attorney for further advice and assistance.
1 N.J.S.A. 18A:36-1.
2 N.J.S.A. 18A:7F-9.
3 N.J.A.C. 6A:32-8.3,
4 Though Lincoln’s Birthday is on the list of public holidays, it is expressly excluded from the list of paid holidays for state employees. See N.J.S.A. 36:1-1(d); see also N.J.S.A. 11A:6-24.1 (Lincoln’s Birthday not included on the list of paid holidays granted to State Civil Service employees.) While state offices are open on Lincoln’s Birthday, some government offices including some municipalities and Federal courts in New Jersey, are closed.
6 Rumson-Fair Haven Educ. Assoc. v. Board of Educ. of the Rumson-Fair Haven Reg. H.S. Dist., 1984 S.L.D. 166.
7 N.J.S.A. 36:1-1 and –1.1.
8 N.J.S.A. 18A:31-2.
9 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).
10 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).
11 See, e.g., N.J. Assembly Bill No. 3321, introduced February 12, 2018.