Below is the actual court ruling.
In a published decision issued on February 8, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division interpreted the Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”) to require each public body to provide Rice notice whenever it intends to act on a matter that could adversely affect an employee’s rights regardless of whether the public body discusses or states an intention to discuss the matter in closed session.Breaking with established legal precedent, the Court held in Kean Federation of Teachers v. Morell, A-5481-14T3 (App. Div. Feb. 8, 2017) that an employee’s notice rights are triggered whenever his/her name or position is placed on a board agenda for action, regardless of whether or not there is an intent by the board to discuss the matter. The Court stated as follows:
We now hold that a public body is required to send out a Rice notice any time it has placed on its agenda any matters involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of the performance of, promotion, or disciplining of any specific…employee.
As a published opinion, all New Jersey boards of education are expressly required to comply with this decision unless or until it is stayed, reversed or modified by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Therefore, it is the recommendation of this office that effective immediately all boards begin providing Rice notice to each employee whose name or position is placed on an agenda for an employment-related purpose. This includes not only the annual list of renewals and non-renewals at issue in Kean, but extends to, among other things, accepting a resignation or retirement, approving a child-rearing leave of absence, granting a sabbatical leave, or effectuating the voluntary or involuntary transfer of personnel.
In Kean, the Court also addressed the responsibility of local boards to make all minutes “promptly available” for review by the public. Although the Court declined to impose a specific 45 day timeframe for disclosure, as such a bright light rule would unnecessarily “invite continuous judicial involvement,” it also emphasized that waiting two or three months to release minutes would not comply with OPMA’s mandate. The Court explained that boards must affirmatively act to ensure that minutes are made promptly available, emphasizing that “[t]he approval of meeting minutes cannot be treated as a mere ministerial function, or worse yet, a technical annoyance.”
Therefore, although the Court did not impose any specific timing requirement on the publication of open or appropriately redacted executive session minutes, this office encourages all boards to approve at each board meeting all minutes from the prior meeting so as to ensure they are made “promptly available” to the public. We recognize that this may not be practical in all situations, particularly if the board meets twice monthly or if the minutes reflect a contentious or lengthy closed session hearing. However, as a general principal, it is recommended that all meeting minutes, open and appropriately redacted closed, be approved on a monthly basis absent extenuating circumstances.
What is a RICE notice/letter:
A RICE letter informs you that the BOE will be discussing your position in the district and affords you the right to have the discussion made public. The notification must be provided by the Board specific to a particular meeting and specific to the individual.
I will keep you posted on any updates.
Best Regards,Paula Bethea
February 24, 2017