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Haddonfield's 24/7 Student Discipline Policy Could Be in Jeopardy

The Haddonfield school district faces a payout of tens of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit against it.

The Haddonfield school district's 24/7 student discipline policy could be in jeopardy after a state Appellate Court ruling this week struck down a similar policy in Ramapo, Bergen County.

That's the conclusion of a board of education attorney and a lawyer suing the school board over the policy.

The dueling lawyers disagree, however, about whether Tuesday's court ruling could lead to a settlement of a federal lawsuit on behalf students who claim the policy harmed them. That suit could achieve a class-action status to cover up to 86 students who were denied opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports or band, after running afoul of the law, mostly for petty alcohol or drug offenses.

Haddonfield school officials say their policy has helped stem a culture of excess that led to two deaths several years ago. Matthew S. Wolf, an attorney representing several students disciplined under the policy, said it was illegal because it sought the power to discipline students for off-campus behavior.

Wolf also claims Haddonfield borough officials willfully violated state criminal processing procedure by promoting a policy of charging juveniles for first offenses in petty alcohol and drug possession cases from 2007 to 2010. Wolf said the practice was ordered stopped by a Camden County Prosecutor's Office directive to release the juveniles in the custody of their parents for first offenses.

The state commissioner of education also issued a ruling in June 2010 to curtail 24/7 policies in school districts around the state. Wolf claims that Haddonfield was one of the only school districts in the state to ignore the ruling and continue with a tough 24/7 policy.

"The Ramapo appellate decision disposed of all the defenses the Haddonfield Board of Education has been asserting for the last three years," Wolf said Thursday. "What we're looking for is a declaration from the court that the policy is unconstitutional and we're looking for a rescission of the policy. The main relief would be equitable if the rights of the students, under the Constitution, were violated."

BOE could have to pay thousands in fees and damages

Wolf said his fees alone after three years top more than $300,000. A settlement or a court decision in the lawsuit could also award damages to the students. The school district is also paying its solicitor, Joe Betley, an additional fee for his work on the case.

Betley said he believes the school district's liability insurance will pay any fees associated with the case, including his, win or lose. But he rejects Wolf's claim that the Ramapo ruling will pave the way toward a victory for the students' court challenge.

"I do not believe the Ramapo decision exposes the board to the Wolf attorney fees or damages," Betley said Thursday. "The board of education should be able to establish reasonable rules for extracurricular activities."

Betley conceded, however, the district's 24/7 policy could be changed or eliminated in light of the Ramapo decision. Haddonfield filed an amicus brief in the Ramapo case stating that the policies were so similar that a decision in Ramapo would directly affect its policy. But Betley said Thursday that Ramapo's policy was more comprehensive than Haddonfield's.

Betley plans to meet Tuesday with the school board to discuss the case. That meeting will likely be an executive session and closed to the public.

School board President Steve Weinstein said Thursday he wanted to hold his comments on the case until the board met.

Mayor Tish Colombi said she also wanted to speak with the the borough solicitor about what happens next. But she said Haddonfield's policy was inspired by a crisis in the community.

"A lot of people worked really hard in a thoughtful way to protect children," she said. "We had two 16-year-old kids dead because of alcohol. It was horrible for the kids and parents and lot of well-meaning people got together and studied this and thought this was a good thing to do."

Maryann Campling July 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Although I fully support the 24/7 policy, I vehemently resent that my tax dollars are being used to discipline other peoples' kids. Schools should be only responsible for reading, writing and 'rithmatic.....not being the moral director of children....that's the parents' job! Parents should ground/punish kids for breaking the rules.....instead of "lawyering up." My late Mom told me, as I was growing up in Philly "if you are somewhere where you shouldn't be, doing something you shouldn't be doing and get locked up....you better hope that the cell is comfortable....you're going to be there for awhile!" I may have been dumb, but I wasn't stupid....I stayed out of trouble. Fear is a powerful motivator. Today's parents should try it.
Beth July 27, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I invite many parents in Haddonfield to try some self reflection. I see an affluent community where many people feel entitled. Entitled to success (whatever that means and whatever the costs), helicopter parenting children and teens to a ridiculous degree, and setting examples with their own entertainment and lifestyle choices that they somehow believe their children will not emulate.
Reed Rothchild July 27, 2012 at 01:52 PM
The 24/7 policy in Haddonfield is a complete abuse of (false) power. Regardless of the legality of the policy it is absurd and reckless. How is punishing a student with the sentence of not being allowed to participate in a sport or club effective? If a student who is not involved in any extra curricular activities is caught drinking (god forbid a high school student gets caught at a party or in the woods drinking) then they aren't effected by this rule at all, when a more involved and active student will be paying a very unfair price for such a petty offense. The school has no right to inflict punishment on these young adults who may have "violated the law" OFF school property and not at a school function and should be the parents who have the final say. The fact that this is still going is childish in and of itself. I'd like the actual names of people in the school system released who are pushing for this bogus policy to remain unlawfully enforced. Typical Haddonfield issue that should have never been an issue to begin with. This excuse to put this policy in place b/c of a few awful situations is a farce. Parents and the police should be able to deal with any issues as is. Now if a student breaks any real laws besides being caught killing brain cells then the police/parents and school can deal with it then, but the 24/7 policy is an embarrassment to the best town in the area.
Dawn July 27, 2012 at 02:41 PM
God forbid children be responsible for their actions. The only reason Wolf is involved in this lawsuit is because a "well to do" kid made a wrong decision. The parents lawyer up & fight instead of making the kid pay for his actions. Way to teach your child a lesson. This is a ridiculous lawsuit.
Brian Kelly July 27, 2012 at 03:15 PM
If a kid gets caught drinking or is involved with other infractions it's up to the parents to discipline their child the way they see fit. This law is about maintaining the image of Haddonfield and the reputations of our elected officials. Their ultimate motivation involved them, not the welfare of the students. Remember when an unsupervised party wrecked a resident's home and it was all over the news? Bad press for the town and the Mayor. That's what this law is all about. Fortunately for our elected officials, they didn't have to worry this sort of nonsense when they were in school. Kids are going to get in trouble, it's up to parents to handle the situation, that's how we do things in America. It's called responsibility. If you stand back and force yourself to take a dispassionate view at the reason for this law, you'll see it's exactly the way the people running this town do business.
Tom Kenny July 27, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Maryann, Nothing more needs to be said, I may not even scroll down and read what other people posted. OK I'll admit it, I read Beth's message and she is also "Spot On"!! I thank you both for your sanity! Tom
Reed Rothchild July 27, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I just wanted to point out that this is a complete contradiction: "Although I fully support the 24/7 policy, I vehemently resent that my tax dollars are being used to discipline other peoples' kids. Schools should be only responsible for reading, writing and 'rithmatic.....not being the moral director of children....that's the parents' job" You can't "fully support the 24/7 policy" and then state that "schools should be ONLY responsible for reading, writing and 'rithmatic" therefore you wouldn't fully support the 24/7 policy. Just saying.
Herb Hess July 27, 2012 at 03:56 PM
The two deceased children (one the son of a friend of mine) died from causes which a) could not be determined as the young man jumped off of a bridge and was not recovered for some time b) appeared in the press to be related to substance abuse. Holding them up continually as the rationale for unconstitutional laws is really an abuse of power. Haddonfield has had issues with alcohol abuse since long before I grew up here in the '60's and 70's. Our assistant principal, Mr. Elliot, confirmed anecdotally that Haddonfield had a drinking problem for the last 50 years. He told me that in the mid-1970's. I experienced and witnessed substantial underage drinking and drug-abuse growing up here and have not seen any evidence that we have eliminated this problem today. In the end I agree that schools should educate and parents should parent. To the extent that schools can support good mental and physical health among students they should do so. Outside of the school environment - a simple, clear message to parents needs to be "If you or a member of your family break the law, there will be legal consequences". Better to spend Matt Wolf's $300,000 in legal fees as well as the BOE's legal fees on resources that could help families that have issues. Unfortunately when 24/7 was instituted it was gutted by the BOE during its first test. Enforcement appears to be arbitrary and the outcome is teaching our kids that privilege and wealth can secure freedom from punishment.
Paula Thomason July 27, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Dawn.. You're clueless... If I hadn't been the subject of such organized stalking and electronic harrassment myself.. some how, poor as I am, I would have found a way to join them. The 24/7 policy needs to be abolished. The Board has ignored endless complaints and instead dragged it's feet and selectively run many children literally out of town or to drop out. It's been a shameful disgrace. These people aren't some spoiled snotty brat's... they were just blessed to be able to file suit. We haven't had the means and have instead been fodder. It is in NO WAY a frivilous suit. If they hadn't terrorized all the others.... the suit would include quite a large number. Schoolhouse to prison pipeline...selectively enforced... well intentioned overkill. If children felt free to speak and tell their horrors... naughty, naughty people.... These are children. Children do childish things. They make mistakes. They are children. Love them. Teach them. You can hold them accountable for their actions without sentencing them to what really is.. a death sentence.. for life because there is no life afterwards, only in heaven. Never forget, J.T. Haggerty.
Maryann Campling July 27, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Mr. Rothchild: Thanks for allowing me to clarify my position on 24/7 so that others will not be confused. I agree with the spirit of 24/7 meaning, to me at least, if you do the crime, you do the time. I know it is an archaic concept in today's progressive society, but in my opinion.....breaking the rules/laws should have consequences....period. That having been said, the parents should have enough sense to curtail their kid's privileges (sports, dances, use of the car, hanging out, etc.) What I resent is use of the school's and for that matter the Boro's resources doing the job that parents should be doing. I doubt any (over)taxpaying resident would disgree with that.

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