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Board of Education v. New Jersey Education Association

Decided: August 4, 1967.


Lane, J.s.c.


[96 NJSuper Page 373] Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that certain actions of defendants are illegal and in violation of the New Jersey Constitution, and a mandatory injunction requiring them to take immediate steps to withdraw certain actions taken by them threatening the imposition of charges of breach of professional ethics or other action against persons who may seek employment with plaintiff.

Plaintiff is a municipal corporation whose members are properly holding office under R.S. 18:1-1 et seq., as amended. Defendant New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is an association which represents teachers and administrators in public school systems in New Jersey. Its membership totals approximately 57,000. Its purpose is to improve education in the public school systems in New Jersey and to work for the benefit of the teaching profession. Defendant Union Beach Teachers Association (UBTA) is a voluntary organization representing 46 of the 47 full-time teachers in plaintiff's system. Defendant Frederick L. Hipp is the executive secretary of the NJEA and has been so since 1946; to all intents and purposes, he is the chief executive officer of that association. Defendants Hayden L. Messner, Jr. and John Molloy are field representatives of NJEA who actively worked with the UBTA during the time the events that precipitated this action occurred. Defendant Harry A. Haller, a former teacher in the Union Beach school system, was president of the UBTA. He had not acquired tenure but would have, had a contract been offered to him for the school year 1967-68. Defendant National Education Association (NEA) is a national association with which NJEA is affiliated.

The relationship between the Union Beach Board of Education (board) and the teachers in the school system had been generally good prior to February 1967. During that month a dispute arose between Donald Ostrander, secretary of the board, and Haller concerning the mailing of certain information to voters in Union Beach immediately prior to the resubmission of the budget to the voters. On March 14, 1967 the board met to consider teachers' contracts for the following school year. Contracts were not offered to Haller, president of the UBTA; Mrs. Petrasek, a member of the UBTA's executive committee, or John Gall, an active member of the UBTA. Notice of such action by the board was given Haller on March 29, 1967.

On March 30, 1967 a special meeting of the UBTA was called for March 31, 1967. In attendance at that meeting were Molloy and Messner. The topic discussed was the failure of the board to offer a contract to Haller. The following resolution, which had been prepared before the meeting, was adopted:

"BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED that WE THE TEACHERS OF UNION BEACH do once again reaffirm our confidence in and support of our duly elected representatives and spokesmen Harry Haller, President; Frederick Cook, Vice President; and John Pikula, Welfare Committee Chairman.

LET IT FURTHER BE KNOWN that WE view the following situations intolerable and will continue to make every effort to see that such unethical, undemocratic and/or educationally unsound practices once and forever cease to exist in the District of Union Beach:

1. The failure to provide a program to develop a meaningful and effective curriculum;

2. The failure to provide adequate and constructive supervision of classroom teachers;

3. The failure to provide for the co-ordination of methods and subject matter as it is being taught in these schools;

4. The failure to provide teachers with necessary and adequate textbooks and supplies;

5. The failure to provide adequate classroom space;

6. The failure to provide necessary police protection at after school affairs;

7. The failure to provide teachers with recourse in the cases of habitual offenders and problem children;

8. The failure to support teachers in the area of discipline to the point that students have become aware of this lack of support;

9. The failure of the Board to consult teachers concerning the school calendar;

10. The failure of the Board to provide adequate administrative leadership free from internal conflict;

11. The repeated attempts to stifle and intimidate teachers' views and opinions;

12. The refusal to look into the causes of the high teacher turnover in Union Beach;

13. The failure of the Board to live up to agreements to:

a. Invite teachers to budget meetings;

b. Conduct 'prior discussion with representatives of the teaching staff' concerning personnel changes as outlined in the Union Beach Public Schools Proposals for Adopting Personnel Policies, Individual Procedures, and Group Negotiations released in a directive to the teaching staff in the spring of 1966;

c. Continue planned projects and discussions with the teachers 'after the budget was passed.'

14. The failure to advertise extra teaching jobs among all members of the teaching staff;

15. The refusal to recognize or reply to recent repeated appeals concerning declining teacher morale and conditions with the school;

16. The repeated failure to accept duly elected spokesmen of the Union Beach Teachers Association as being representative of the membership and conditions existing within the schools;

17. The direct and deplorable action taken in dismissing qualified and competent leaders (and nontenure teachers) of the Union Beach Teachers Association.

LET IT HEREBY BE KNOWN that having prior to the election actively and enthusiastically supported the budget and incumbent Board members, WE do hereby withdraw this support until such time as immediate and irrevocable steps are taken to substantially provide for the correction of the aforementioned practices and conditions."

The members present at the meeting were advised by the representatives of the NJEA that there was a new era for teachers' rights; that a board of education could no longer fail to reemploy a nontenure teacher without giving a reason, and that the solution was for the teachers to resign en masse. The teachers were requested to submit written resignations. Such resignations could only be made upon 60 days' notice. Before March 31, 1967 none of the 17 items referred to in the resolution had ever been presented to the board as a grievance or as a failure in the system.

As the result of a telegram sent by one of the representatives of the NJEA to the members of the board, a meeting of the board and representatives of the UBTA, together with Molloy and Mesaner, was held April 3, 1967. At that meeting no grievance or proposal was presented by or on behalf of the teachers. The only request, which was made by defendant Molloy, was to have the board explain why a contract had not been offered to Haller. Molloy desired to have the members of the board polled as to the offering of the contract to Haller. This request was refused. The resolution adopted by the UBTA on March 31, 1967 was not presented to the board at this meeting.

On April 4, 1967 the board held its regular monthly meeting. After the business meeting Haller for the first time presented a copy of the March 31, 1967 resolution and also presented envelopes containing resignations from 36 of the 47 teachers. These resignations were effective June 3, 1967, which was some two to three weeks before the end of the school year. Many of those resigning were tenure teachers.

The board had in effect a procedure for individual grievances and for group negotiations. Although not the most carefully drawn procedure, it does provide in paragraph 3 for bringing before the board matters of policy affecting the school system as a whole.

The discord between the teachers and the board arose from one fact and one fact alone, namely, the failure of the board to offer contracts to Haller, Mrs. Petrasek and Gall. The so-called 17 points contained in the resolution were merely feigned and had never been the subject of any grievances by the UBTA.

On April 11, 1967 the UBTA invoked "sanctions" against the board, allegedly because of its refusal to enter into negotiation or discussion of their mutual problems. A copy of the resolution invoking "sanctions" by the UBTA was sent to the NJEA so that with NJEA help the UBTA "could focus public and professional attention on the unsatisfactory conditions in the schools of Union Beach."

At a meeting of the executive committee of the NJEA held April 21, 1967, a resolution was adopted supporting the sanctions resolution adopted by the UBTA, invoking statewide sanctions against the Union Beach school system and requesting help from the NEA in supporting the sanctions.

Under date of May 3, 1967, "Notice of Professional Sanctions" in Union Beach, New Jersey, was distributed by the NJEA to the state preparation colleges in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland; to all presidents, placement directors, student

magazines and student education association presidents in the preparation colleges in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland; to all state association executive secretaries; to all presidents and placement directors in all teachers' colleges in New Jersey, and to the chairmen of the education department and the faculty association presidents of the six New Jersey state colleges. In addition, several thousand notices were sent to NJEA representatives assigned to various buildings in selected school districts surrounding Union Beach. The letter accompanying the sanctions provided as follows:

"This is to advise that on April 21, 1967, sanctions were imposed on the Union Beach Public Schools by the New Jersey Education Association. This action has been taken at the request of the Union Beach Teachers Association.

This action is the result of declining educational conditions in Union Beach and the school board's arrogance, ineptitude, neglect and arbitrary reprisals against teachers.

So long as pending issues remain unresolved and current attitudes remain unchanged, New Jersey Education Association sanctions will remain in effect.

The New Jersey Education Association calls upon all sectors of the teaching profession -- teachers, administrators, retired teachers, educational organizations, prospective teachers, and institutions of higher education which prepare teachers -- to bring the moral weight of our profession to bear on behalf of the fine, professional teachers of Union Beach by fully observing the state and local sanctions hereby proclaimed.

Further, the New Jersey Education Association calls upon the Union Beach community, through its board of education, to seek equitable resolution of the teacher-school board conflict before further damage is done to educational opportunities for the children of Union Beach and to the cultural and economic life of the city itself."

The sanctions notice read as follows:


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