School board members elected to office for the first time on April 25 will have 30 days from the certification of election results (May 1) to complete criminal background checks. However, they may be sworn into office at the board’s organization meeting, even if their criminal background checks are not completed, according to the New Jersey Department of Education’s Criminal History Review Unit.

Under statute (N.J.S.A. 18A:10-3), board members must be sworn in at the board’s annual organization meeting, which must occur during the first or second week after the April election. However, the board members-elect may not begin the fingerprint review process until the election results are certified on May 1, leaving very little time to complete that review before the statutorily mandated organization meeting. NJSBA had expressed a concern to the state Department of Education about this conflict in statutory timelines for April election districts.

“We appreciate the Department of Education responsiveness in clarifying this matter,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “Even though the situation involves the relatively small number of school districts with April elections, it is critical that the school boards be able to comply with statute governing organization meetings while their new members fulfill requirements for criminal background checks.”

On April 24, Carl Carabelli, manager of the Criminal History Review Unit, sent NJSBA the following message concerning new members elected in April and November:

A statutory conflict exists concerning school board members that are elected or appointed in the month of April because of the different timelines for re-organization and criminal history background checks.  By way of further explanation, N.J.S.A. 18A:10-3 requires the annual re-organization meeting to take place within one or two weeks following the April election, with new board members taking office at that meeting.  N.J.S.A. 18A:12-1.2 states that each member of a board of education, within 30 days of election or appointment to that board, shall undergo a criminal history background check for the purpose of ensuring that the member is not disqualified from membership due to a conviction of a crime or offense listed in N.J.S.A. 18A:12-1.

For those members elected in November, the re-organization meeting does not take place until January, which gives them the full 30 days to submit to the background check.

However, for those members elected or appointed in April who must begin service within one or two weeks of election/appointment, the full 30 day time period is not available.  Under these circumstances, board members may take office at the re-organization meeting pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:10-3.  The election results should be certified by May, and the board members will have 30 days from the date of certification to submit to the criminal history background check. It is important to emphasize that these board members must start the criminal history background check process immediately following the certification of the election results on May 1.

Fourteen of the state’s school districts conduct April elections.

Information concerning  the criminal history review process is available from the NJDOE Criminal History Review Unit at (609) 292-0507.