🔺 Three Monmouth County school districts vote to defy NJ rules on transgender students

🔺 Showdown between Gov. Murphy and parental rights

🔺 What action can the state take against districts that do not comply?

A showdown with Gov. Phil Murphy's administration over parental rights has triggered multiple lawsuits against school districts who have adopted policies in defiance of the state's rules on transgender students.

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin filed suit against the Marlboro, Manalapan-Englishtown and Middletown Township School Districts after local school board members approved policies requiring parents to be notified if a child changes gender identity at school.

Platkin warned his office would take swift action to defend the rights of trans students.

New Jersey public school transgender student guidance
New Jersey public school transgender student guidance (Canva)

⬛ Schools could face penalties

While the Murphy administration has chosen to move this battle to the courts, it is not the only recourse against districts that defy Murphy's orders.

Schools that defy state rules and regulations could face additional sanctions from the Department of Education.

Under News Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC) 6A:2-1.2, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education is given broad powers to enforce school law and State Board of Education regulations.

attachment-NJ Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan

⬛ NJAC 6A:2-1.2 Powers and duties

(a) The powers and duties of the Commissioner are as follows:

1. The Commissioner is empowered to decide legal controversies and disputes arising under school laws or State Board regulations and his/her decisions have the force of law;
2. To apportion State aid to local school districts;
3. To issue teacher certificates;
4. To approve vocational schools;
5. To issue rules and regulations for the classification of students with disabilities;
6. To conduct Statewide tests;
7. To prescribe minimum courses of study for elementary and high schools;
8. To withhold State aid from local school districts which fail to comply with school law or State Board regulations;

⬛ What penalties could schools face?

They could vary and escalate at the education commissioner's discretion.

The first step would likely be a warning if the district did not comply, they would face intense monitoring from the state.

Further defiance could trigger a partial or even a full-scale state takeover.

A takeover would cede all local control to the commissioner and/or his/her designee.

⬛ Could the state withhold education aid?

The short answer is, yes.

Under the NJAC code the education commissioner has the power "to withhold State aid from local school districts which fail to comply with school law or State Board regulations."

How much state aid would be withheld is at the commissioner's discretion.

attachment-Oroho sex ed quote

⬛ Has this happened before?

New Jersey was the first state in the nation to conduct a formal takeover of a school district. Since, multiple districts have come under state control. Historically this has been for either mismanagement of school finances and/or student performance issues.

⬛ COVID rules prompted threats

The first time the state publicly threatened sanctions against a school district that did not comply with policy, rather than education standards, was during the pandemic.

Some schools were pushing back again mandatory mask mandates. That drew anger from Gov. Murphy.

When the Middletown School Board was preparing to make it easier for parents to opt out of the masking policy, the governor's office called the board attorney and warned if they did so, the state would immediately take them to court. The board ultimately complied with Murphy's mandate. A similar situation played out in Wayne.

Photo provided by Patti Nawolski
Photo provided by Patti Nawolski

⬛ Similarities to controversy over new sex-ed standards

When the state implemented new sex education standards and curriculum, many pushed back and enacted standards in conflict with state guidance.

At the time, a Department of Education warned that districts that ignore the new standards “will be penalized for instruction and program in the appropriate curricular area” and that “the severity of the ramifications could vary.”

The Murphy administration warned of lawsuits and sanctions. The majority of districts complied with the new standards.

attachment-NJ transgender student guidance 1

⬛ Republican criticism

State Republican lawmakers have been highly critical of both the sex-ed curriculum and the policy of not informing parents when a child changes gender identity in school.

Of the threat of sanctions, State Sen. Steve Oroho said, "The unspoken threat is that Gov. Murphy will cut state aid to school districts that refuse to comply, which will drive up property taxes for struggling families in those communities even higher."

"Communities will be forced to decide whether standing up for their values is worth the economic pain the Murphy administration might impose on them for daring to assert their parental rights when it comes to sex education,” he said.

⬛ What happens now?

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin filed the lawsuits against Marlboro, Manalapan-Englishtown and Middletown Township School Districts on Wednesday, June 21.

Gov. Murphy will likely wait until this plays out in the courts before deciding if additional actions will be necessary.

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