The Senate Education Committee met this week. The agenda covered a broad array of topics including a bill to reinforce and intensify New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying of Rights law, changing all references of “security aid” to “health and safety aid” in the SFRA, requiring diversity and inclusion instruction, postponing NJQSAC, mandating a policy on the use of sunscreen, requiring a statewide “learning loss” report, and a package of bills on school discipline disparities. All of the measures were advanced by the Committee and could now be considered by the full Senate.
Amending NJ’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act
After over a year of discussions and amendments, NJPSA was able to support S-1790 which proposes to make significant changes to the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights if enacted. The bill was released by the Senate Education Committee, but still must be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Assembly Education and Appropriations Committees and be voted upon by both houses. Governor Murphy would also need to sign this bill for it to become law.
The measure modifies criminal statutes to increase fines for parents or guardians for failure to comply with a court-ordered class or training on cyberbullying. Currently, parents or guardians of a minor under the age of 16 who has been adjudicated delinquent of cyber-harassment face fines from $25 to $100 for failure to attend classes with their child, and the bill would raise the penalties to $100 to $500. Parents could also be liable under a civil suit.
With respect to school bullying investigations, the bill seeks to strengthen school accountability through a structured system of reporting, recording, tracking and investigating HIB in schools. The bill clarifies the investigatory structure, the consequences for HIB and creates the position of School Climate State Coordinator within the NJDOE to serve as a resource for students, parents and educators .
Finally, the bill proposes to fund the Bullying Prevention Fund and this newly created NJDOE position.
Changing all References of “Security Aid” to “Health and Safety Aid” in the SFRA
S-3013 changes all references of security aid to health and safety aid in the SFRA, and amends the Secure Schools for All Children Act to provide that the aid allocated for security services to non-public schools may also be used for mental health services. The sponsors believe the changes in this bill reflect that a secure school also includes students’ mental health and wellbeing.
A Bill Requiring Diversity and Inclusion Instruction in K-12
S-2781 requires school districts to provide instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. Under the bill,the instruction would highlight and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging. The topics would include gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, religious tolerance, and unconscious bias.
The committee amended the bill to eliminate specific reference to the Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards. The amendments provide that the instruction on diversity and inclusion will be incorporated throughout grades kindergarten through 12 and will highlight and promote economic diversity and examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole.
A Bill to Modify NJQSAC Review Schedule
S-3187 would postpone until the 2023-2024 school year the comprehensive review of districts that are: 1) required to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year; and 2) were designated as a high performing district in the school district’s most recent comprehensive review. However, the Commissioner of Education is required to permit a high performing school district that is subject to postponement under the bill to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year, upon request by the school district. A high performing school district that elects to undergo its scheduled comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year would undergo its next comprehensive review three years after the 2020-2021 school year.
This bill requires a school district that is scheduled to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year and which was not designated as a high performing district in the school district’s most recent comprehensive review may postpone its comprehensive review until the 2021-2022 school year if the district provides written notification to the Commissioner of Education that it is not able to complete the review due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A school district that postpones its comprehensive review pursuant to this exception will be required to undergo its next review as if the postponement had not occurred (i.e., three years after the school year in which the review was originally scheduled to take place).
NJPSA strongly supported this bill as recognizing that staff time is a scarce resource at this time and requiring districts to invest so much time and valuable resources into a compliance measure is a misallocation of staffing at a time when educators need to be focusing all of their energies on safety, through COVID-19 response measures, and student engagement in learning.
School Discipline Practices Including Racial Disparities/Effectiveness Bill Package
The first bill, S-1018, would establish a task force to examine, evaluate and make recommendations on discipline policies and practices in New Jersey public schools. This would include any racial disparities in the implementation of those policies as well as their effectiveness.
The second bill, S-1020, would require school districts and charter schools to report data on student expulsions, in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions to the Commissioner of Education on a monthly basis. The data would include students’ race, ethnicity, gender and eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. Districts will be required to publish this data publicly on their websites in the form of an annual report. NJPSA was able to successfully work with the sponsors to obtain several amendments to this bill including the removal of a section of the bill that would have created a new requirement that each school district and charter school submit to the Commissioner of Education a monthly report concerning data related to student disciplinary actions, including a breakdown of the data by several demographic categories.
A third bill, S-1154, would direct the Department of Education to develop school discipline guidelines consistent with the federal school discipline guidance package from the Obama Administration (rescinded by the Trump Administration).
Along the same lines, the committee also advanced SR-24, which would urge the federal government to preserve the school discipline guidance package issued in 2014 by the Obama Administration.
A Bill Requiring Districts to Adopt a Policy on Sunscreen and Sun-Protective Clothing
S-1501 requires school districts to adopt a policy concerning a student’s use of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, such as hats and sunglasses, while outdoors at school and school-sponsored functions. The policy will not require a student to provide documentation from a physician or other licensed health care professional in order to use sunscreen or sun-protective clothing while outdoors at school or a school-sponsored function. The bill will take effect in the first full school year following the bill’s enactment.
A Bill Establishing a Community Learning Program in the NJ DOE
Under S-3213, every school district located within an “impact zone” would be required to establish and implement an extended learning time program. The intent of these programs would be to close the achievement gap and provide services for enrolled students during non-school hours, including summer and holiday recesses. The bill allows these services to be provided at one or more locations, including existing school facilities and approved off-site locations, except that the district would be required to provide participating students with transportation to and from any such location. The costs of the program would be supported by a portion of the annual State revenues collected from the retail sale of recreational cannabis products.
A bill Requiring a Learning Loss Report
S-3214 requires the Commissioner of Education to prepare two reports on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on public schooling. The first report will be a learning loss report that identifies and quantifies the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student academic outcomes. The second report will be a report on the continuation of school services during the same period.
Under the bill, the commissioner must collect data on student academic outcomes from all school districts within 30 days of the bill’s effective date. The learning loss report must:
(1) identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on overall student academic outcomes, and include an analysis disaggregated by district size, grade level, and academic subject, where practicable; and
(2) identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student achievement disparities that existed prior to the public health emergency, and include an analysis of student academic outcomes disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Program, eligibility for special education services, and English language learner designation.
The bill also directs the commissioner to require each school district to submit data and information related to the continuation of school services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The school district must submit the data and information to the commissioner within 90 days of the bill’s effective date. The data and information must be provided for the time period beginning on the date of the school district’s closure in March of 2020 and ending on the bill’s effective date. Under the bill, the required data will include, but need not be limited to:
- the dates of any extended and intermittent pauses of academic instruction taken as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
- a description of the instructional format provided by the school district;
- for any remote learning provided, data on the amount of class time students spent in synchronous and asynchronous learning formats;
- data on class sizes for each instructional format used by the district and the amount of any small group or one-on-one instruction delivered;
- data and information on student and teacher access to reliable Internet and technology;
- high school graduation rates;
- information on any standardized assessment administered to students in the fall of 2020;
- the attendance rates and attendance policy applied by the school district;
- information on the continuity of special education services;
- a description of the professional development opportunities provided to school district teachers and staff;
- the number of students who received free or reduced-price meals;
- information on any district-sponsored child care programs;
- information on current and projected teacher shortages; and
- types of social-emotional supports provided to students, teachers, and staff and participation rates of these programs.
Under the bill school districts would have to provide data that is disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Program, eligibility for special education services, English language learner designation, and grade level.
NJPSA testified in opposition to this bill. While we agree that gathering data is an important measure that will help us as we move forward, the tight timelines in the bill would put undue stress on already strained school districts and staff. NJEA, Garden State Coalition of Schools, New Jersey School Boards Association, and NJASA all concurred with our testimony.
However, other education advocates and representatives from business/industry groups, including the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of NJ, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, New Jersey Children’s Foundation, JerseyCAN and the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association all signed a letter in support of the measure. They argued that without key baseline information, we can’t craft programs to accelerate student learning and help get our student and families, especially our low-income students, back on track
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 5-1, but even sponsor doesn’t think bill is perfect solution
The Senate Higher Education Committee Also Convened This Week
The Senate Higher Education Committee this week advanced S-550, a bill that requires public schools that include grades seven through twelve, and higher education institutions, such as colleges and universities, to print the telephone number for a suicide prevention hotline on the back of every student ID card.
As always the NJPSA Government Relations team thanks you for your continued advocacy and tireless efforts on behalf of your school buildings, staff and students. Every time we put out a call to action, including this week, you are always there with helpful information. We appreciate you and all that you do. Please stay safe and healthy. And please don’t ever hesitate to contact us if we may be of assistance: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.