Did certain Board of Education (BOE) members work with Superintendent Varley to assist with the creation of a full day kindergarten (FDK) plan in an effort to pre-arrange the outcome of the April 29, 2021 BOE vote?
On 2/4/21 BOE President announces there will be FDK this fall.
On 2/8/21 Mr. D’Aquilla emailed Mr. Reinstein, Ms. Reilly and Ms. Felezzola discussing submission of a construction plan to the township for approval, getting approval from the state and also ordering building supplies to ensure construction can start on time. Ms. Felezzola replies she is awaiting a reply regarding the construction schedule.
On 3/3/21 Superintendent Varley sends an email to a few administrators and 4 BOE members to arrange a time to discuss the presentation for the April 8 BOE meeting. (A previous meeting to review the presentation with the other 4 BOE members had already occurred, per her email.)
On 3/3/21 Mr. Cianciulli replies to Dr. Varley questioning if this meeting violates the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). Varley replies that because they will not have a quorum (that would be 5 or more BOE members, which is a violation of OPMA/Sunshine Law), the meeting is allowed.
The meeting with Dr. Varley, administrators and 4 BOE members was scheduled for March 9, 2021.
Parents were denied any information regarding the plans for FDK during the period ranging from February 5, 2021 through April 8, 2021.
How much oversight, input and decision-making did select BOE members have in Dr. Varley’s FDK plan? The optics of these email exchanges imply that certain BOE members were involved in the planning and decision-making process to implement FDK, redistrict, realign and reconfigure our schools. Were they the unnamed “experts?”
Below are links along with excerpts from the NJ State Board Association website in regard to The Open Public Meetings Act (also known as the Sunshine Law):
N.J.S.A 10:4-7. Legislative findings and declaration
The Legislature finds and declares that the right of the public to be present at all meetings of public bodies, and to witness in full detail all phases of the deliberation, policy formulation, and decision making of public bodies, is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process; that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society, and hereby declares it to be the public policy of this State to insure the right of its citizens to have adequate advance notice of and the right to attend all meetings of public bodies at which any business affecting the public is discussed or acted upon in any way except only in those circumstances where otherwise the public interest would be clearly endangered or the personal privacy or guaranteed rights of individuals would be clearly in danger of unwarranted invasion.
As a guiding principle, therefore, board members should be aware that once members begin to engage in two-way communication, or a string of communication involving additional board members, each step brings the board closer to the possibility that the board’s action could be challenged as a violation of the Sunshine Law. In addition, having a written memorial of such discussion raises issues regarding the public’s right of access to the email as a public record.