On appeal from the State Board of Education.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Grall and Chambers.
The Board of Education of the Township of Bloomfield appeals from the decision of the State Board of Education finding the Bloomfield Board legally obligated to provide C.L.P. (a child between the age of five and twenty years old) with a free public education pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:38-1. In so doing, the State Board of Education adopted, without modification, the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Education.
This case originated as an appeal filed by M.L.P., mother of the minor C.L.P., challenging the decision of the Bloomfield Board to disenroll C.L.P. as a student in the school district.
The Bloomfield Board decided to disenroll C.L.P. after conducting an investigation which revealed that the child resided with her grandmother in East Orange. M.L.P.'s appeal on behalf of her daughter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law, where an administrative law judge made the following undisputed factual findings:
By letter dated November 18, 2005, the district notified petitioner that a Board meeting had been scheduled to vote upon the disenrollment of C.L.P. from the district schools as she was determined to not be domiciled within the district. The meeting was scheduled for December 20, 2005 at 8:00 p.m. and M.L.P. was in attendance. At that meeting M.L.P. advised the Board that she drops C.L.P. off at her grandmother E.W.'s home at 5:30 a.m. each day, at . . . East Orange, and that was why C.L.P. had never been observed leaving the Bloomfield residence to go to school.
The investigation continued with observations of E.W.'s residence over several additional days in January, February, May and June 2006. C.L.P. was again observed leaving the residence at . . . East Orange, New Jersey in the morning, and being driven to the [Bloomfield public school] by E.W. On no occasion was C.L.P. dropped off in the morning by M.L.P.
On each day of observation the investigator arrived at the East Orange address between 4:15 and 4:30 a.m. and remained until C.L.P. and E.W. left for school at approximately 8:30 each morning. His continued observations were consistent with C.L.P. residing with her grandmother in East Orange, rather than with her mother in Bloomfield, since at least September 30, 2005 when the investigation commenced.
A copy of a Lease and Deposit Agreement provided to the district by M.L.P. indicates that M.L.P. resides at [an address in] Bloomfield, New Jersey. The Board investigator spoke with M.L.P.'s landlord who advised that M.L.P. was residing in the one bedroom apartment at that location with another adult.
C.L.P. was enrolled as a first grade student during the 2005-2006 school year and the tuition cost for a first grade student in the Township of Bloomfield during the 2005-2006 school year was $8,824.
Based on these findings, the ALJ filed an Initial Decision concluding that M.L.P. had failed to meet her burden of proof under N.J.S.A. 18A:38-1(a) that C.L.P. was domiciled within the Bloomfield school district during the 2005-2006 school year. On appeal, the acting State Commissioner of Education rejected the Initial Decision of the ALJ, noting that:
[I]t is well settled that a minor child does not establish his or her own domicile. Rather, the domicile of the child is determined by the domicile of the parent. Although it appears that C.L.P. spent a great deal of time at her grandmother's residence, she nonetheless had a right to a free public education in respondent's district ...