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South Orange Asks: What is a Donaldson Hearing?

Two well-known teacher will have a hearing on Tuesday

South Orange students and parents have learned what a Donaldson hearing is, as two eighth grade Social Studies teachers have such hearings scheduled. Both Steven Cohen and Kathleen McCort will go before the Board of Education on Tuesday, June 26, at 5 p.m. at the Board of Education building. It is not known yet if the hearings will be public, normally a choice made by the teacher.

A key point of the hearing law is that results must be made known to the teachers, in writing, within three days.

According to a district handout,

The Board is not required to take a vote at the conclusion of the hearing. Should the Board decide to act to reinstate the employee, it would require five affirmative roll call votes to pass. This is the only provision for a school district to employ someone who does not have the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools. If the Board does not take action within three days, the non-renewal stands.

More on the Donaldson process courtesy of the New Jersey School Boards Association:

How did the teachers and Board of Education reach this point?

When a teacher receives a notice of termination, he or she may, within 15 days, request in writing a statement of the reasons for such non-employment which shall be given to the teaching staff member in writing within 30 days after receipt of such request." N.J.S.A. 18A:37-3.2.

A teacher then has a right to appear before the district board to contest the decision not to renew. (This is the Donaldson hearing.) The administrative regulation, N.J.A.C. 6A:32-4.6, provides that:

The written request has to be submitted to the board within 10 calendar days of receipt by the teaching staff member of the board's statement of reasons;
The informal appearance before the district board is to be scheduled "within" 30 calendar days from receipt of the district board of education's statement of reasons.

What is the hearing for?

The hearing allows the teacher an opportunity to convince the members of the board to offer reemployment.

The hearing's length will be determined by the Board of Education. The teacher may be represented by counsel or by someone else. The teacher may present witnesses, who do not have to go under oath and will not be cross-examined by Board members.
What happens next?

Within three days of the hearing, the district must notify the teacher of its determination in writing. 

Why is it called Donaldson?

The “Donaldson Hearing,” is a right that was established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Donaldson v. North Wildwood Bd. of Ed., 65 N.J. 236 (1974).

Clive June 25, 2012 at 04:19 PM
The dictates of the supervising boards - seems to be stuck in the Status Quo - without room for growth evolution or modernity. Therefore "the domineering my way or the highway relentless pursuits" of the authorities will stand unless vigorously oppsed and put to the test always.
Molly Williams June 26, 2012 at 06:47 PM
We're very proud of the 8th graders who protested the dismissal of two of their favorite teaches, this past spring. It showed their maturity and selflessness. We explained to our children that the school had the right to hire & fire whom they choose, but it was wonderful to see them standing for people they believed in. Yes, Mr. U. an awesome civic lesson indeed.

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