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Board of Education of Township of Rockaway v. Rockaway Township Education Association

Decided: September 25, 1972.

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF ROCKAWAY IN THE COUNTY OF MORRIS, A BODY CORPORATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP EDUCATION ASSOCIATION AND JOSEPH YOUNGMAN, DEFENDANTS



Stamler, J.s.c.

Stamler

Plaintiff is the Board of Education of the Township of Rockaway in Morris County. Defendants are Rockaway Township Education Association (hereinafter RTEA) and Joseph Youngman, a teacher in the employ of the Board. The Board asks that defendants be enjoined from proceeding before the American Arbitration Association on the question of interference with the "academic freedom" of the teacher in violation of a contract between the Board and RTEA.

The New Jersey School Boards Association (an alliance of boards of education throughout the State) and The New Jersey Education Association (an alliance of teacher's associations) moved and were granted leave to appear amici curiae.

The Board filed a verified complaint and defendants filed a verified answer and counterclaim. The complaint and answer are at odds in only one minor nonrelevant disputed occurrence. This will be noted infra. Since there are no material facts in dispute and there is nothing to be added by a trial, this court will consider the matter as if cross-motions for summary judgment were made.

On June 23, 1971 the Board and RTEA entered into a contract which provided for the terms and conditions of employment of teachers in the Rockaway Township School District. In February 1972 Youngman, a teacher of humanities, was directed by the superintendent of the school district not to conduct in his 7th grade class a previously announced "debate" on the subject of abortion. The 7th grade class is composed of 11- and 12-year-old children.

It is here that the parties' description of what was intended to take place differs: the complaint says that the debate was to be "on the pros and cons of abortion"; the counterclaim of RTEA denies "the pros and cons" allegation, but admits that the subject of the proposed debate was "the abortion laws". Both agree it was to be a debate. Debates require affirmative and negative views advocated by opposing speakers: which of the two was the precise title

is not relevant to the court's determination. For the purposes of this opinion, the subject matter was one and the same.

Defendants contend that the preclusion decision of the superintendent and its affirmance by the Board was a denial of "academic freedom" to defendants and a violation of Article XXVII, paragraph C of the collective bargaining contract between the parties.

Paragraph C reads as follows:

The Board and the Association agree that academic freedom is essential to the fulfillment of the purposes of the Rockaway Township School District. Free discussion of controversial issues is the heart of the democratic process. Through the study of such issues, political, economic or social, youth develops those abilities needed for functional citizenship in our democracy. Whenever appropriate for the maturation level of the group , controversial issues may be studied in an unprejudiced and dispassionate manner. It shall be the duty of the teacher to foster the study of an issue and not to teach a particular viewpoint in regard to it. [Emphasis supplied]

Defendants demanded of the Board that the issue of the alleged violation of Article XXVII, paragraph C, as well as the issue of academic freedom of a member of the teaching staff, be processed as a "grievance" before the American Arbitration Association as provided in the contract. Notice of its intention to proceed before the Arbitration Association was given to the Board. The Board filed its complaint seeking an injunction, asserting that the appropriate forum is a proceeding before the Commissioner of Education. RTEA and the teacher, by their counterclaim, seek ...


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