The NJ State Board of Education has ruled that alternative education for an expelled high school student must be extended until he reaches his twentieth birthday. The December 3rd ruling in P.H. v. Bergenfield is the second involving the student, M.C., and clarifies an important issue in New Jersey: whether students expelled from high school are entitled under state statute to a free public education until age 20.

The State Board had previously ruled, in July 2002, that students expelled from high school, like M.C., remain entitled under the NJ Constitution to an alternative education program until graduation or attainment of age 19. The State Board stressed “the importance of providing educational services to students who present serious disciplinary problems.” Bergenfield was then ordered to provide M.C. with an alternative education program until he graduates from high school or turns nineteen.

Bergenfield then appealed this ruling to an Appellate Court. Before the appeal could be decided, M.C. turned 19 without having completed his high school diploma. The Appellate Court sent the case back to the State Board to decide if M.C. if should have an extra year to complete his high school requirements on statutory grounds. The State Board’s December 3rd ruling guarantees M.C. the additional year he needs to graduate. ELC, however, anticipates that Bergenfield will appeal this latest decision to an Appellate court.

The latest court victory is part of ELC’s efforts to secure the right to alternative education for students whose conduct requires removal from traditional schools. In addition to the rulings in the P.H. case, ELC has successfully included aternative education as a required supplemental program for students in NJ’s urban districts in the Abbott v. Burke rulings.

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Sharon Krengel
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