The Senate Education Committee met May 23, moving a series of bills affecting students and schools. NJPSA was on hand to weigh in on the proposals.
Prohibition of Smokeless Tobacco
Senate Bill S-293 (Vitale / Smith, B) prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco in any area of any building of, or on the grounds of, any public school and creates penalties for violating the prohibition. The bill requires the board of education of each school district to ensure the placement, in every public entrance to a public school building in its district, of a sign indicating that the use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited in the school.
The penalties for using smokeless tobacco would be a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. However, these fines would not be applicable to a student who violates the bill’s provisions. Rather, a student would be prohibited by the board of education of a district from participation in all extracurricular activities, including interscholastic athletics. In addition, the student’s parking privileges would be revoked. A board of education would be required to adopt a policy that establishes the length of the suspension or revocation imposed on a student for any initial or subsequent violation.
NJPSA supports the legislation. The bill was unanimously approved by the Committee.
Also approved was legislation, S-496 / A-2566 (Ruiz / Diegnan / Jasey / Wimberly), which directs the Commissioner of Education to develop and establish an initiative to support and encourage the use of a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework by school districts. The Department initiative must include the dissemination of information and guidance to school districts regarding the development and effective implementation of an RTI framework as a methodology to identify struggling learners, maximize student achievement, and reduce behavioral problems. The initiative also must include the dissemination of information and guidance to school districts regarding the effective use of an RTI framework as a methodology to identify students with specific learning disabilities in accordance with the federal “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. s.1400 et seq.
In addition, the bill requires the Commissioner to ensure that an RTI framework developed and implemented by a school district includes, at a minimum, certain elements that are commonly recognized as core components of any RTI model. These elements include:
- high quality research-based instruction in the general education setting;
- universal screening procedures to identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes or behavioral challenges;
- multiple levels of evidence-based interventions that are progressively more intense, based on the student’s responsiveness; and
- continuous monitoring of student progress.
Finally, the bill requires the commissioner to make technical assistance and training available to assist school districts in implementing an RTI framework.
NJPSA supports the legislation, as do the other major education stakeholders – particularly in light of the work the New Jersey Department of Education has already taken with regard to RTI which mimic the requirements under the bill. The bill was released unanimously by the Assembly Education Committee earlier this session. The legislation aggressively moved in the last legislative session but stalled in the waning days of the 216th session. The committee approved the legislation May 23.
Live Video Stream Access by Law Enforcement
The Committee also approved legisation, S-742 (Beach), which requires that if a local district has at least one school in the district that is equipped with video surveillance equipment capable of streaming live video wirelessly to a remote location, the district must develop a local memorandum of understanding with law enforcement within 180 days of the bill’s enactment, to provide access to law enforcement. The local MOU will detail who shall be authorized to view live streaming video, the circumstances where access will be permitted and a detailed plan for preventing and detecting unauthorized access to live streaming video. Under an amendment to the bill, introduced during the committee hearing, if a school district and municipality cannot agree on the parameters of video access under the MOU the County Prosecutor would be authorized to make a determination as to the specifics of video access.
The legislation stems from a recommendation by the New Jersey School Security Taskforce (July 2015) of which NJPSA was a member. Given the permissive nature of the bill, NJPSA supports the legislation. The Assembly version of the bill, A-1205 (Mosquero) was approved by the Assembly Ed Committee back in March.
School Nurse Certification
Further, the Committee approved legislation, S-1381 / A-1256 (Bateman / Caride / Singleton / Jasey), which would revert regulation related to School Nurse certification.
State Board of Education regulations at N.J.A.C.6A:9B-14.3 and 14.4 govern school nurse certification. In July of 2013, the State board adopted amendments to the certification requirements, which reduced credit requirements for a school nurse endorsement from 30 to 21 semester hour credits, and reduced credit requirements for a non-instructional school nurse endorsement from 21 to 15 semester hour credits. The amendments also eliminated the requirement that a candidate for a school nurse endorsement complete a minimum of 6 credits in a college-supervised school nurse practicum, half of which is completed in a school nurse office and the balance of which is completed in a classroom. The Assembly version of the bill passed the Assembly Education Committee earlier this session.
NJPSA supported the measure as it focuses on ensuring staff are prepared upon entry into the profession. It is our understanding that the colleges/universities have not modified their curriculum to address these changes to date. Moreover, the Association argued that aspiring nurses, like aspiring teachers, should have access, and complete all developmental, clinical and educational requirements prior to entering the profession.
Vision Screenings for Students
The Committee additionally approved legislation, S-1590 (Rice / Turner). which would require boards of education to adopt changes to what current student vision screenings include to encompass the evaluation of acuity and binocular vision.
State Board of Education regulations at N.J.A.C.6A:16-2.2(l)(2) currently require boards of education to conduct visual acuity screenings biennially for students in kindergarten through grade 10. This bill would codify the requirement to screen students in kindergarten through grade 10 for visual acuity and additionally require that the vision screenings include an evaluation of binocular vision skills, including convergence. The bill also requires notification to the parent or guardian of any student whose vision screening detects a suspected vision-related problem.
Binocular vision refers to the ability for both eyes to work together simultaneously. Binocular vision disorders, including convergence insufficiency, can greatly impact a child’s ability to learn and may initially be misinterpreted as neurodevelopmental delays or learning disabilities. Screening students for binocular vision in addition to visual acuity will assist in the early identification of children with vision problems, enabling them to obtain appropriate treatment that can improve educational outcomes and quality of life.
It is our understanding that the inclusion of this screening is nominal in cost and can easily be added to the vision screening process. NJPSA supports the legislation.
Limiting Expulsions & Suspensions in P-2
Further, the Committee approved legislation, S-2081 (Ruiz), which would limit expulsions and suspensions for students in preschool through grade 2 with certain exceptions and require early detection and prevention programs for behavioral issues in preschool through grade 2.
N.J.S.A. 18A:37-2 outlines the types of conduct that may constitute good cause for the suspension or expulsion of a student from school. This bill would place limits on expulsions and suspensions for students enrolled in preschool through second grade in a school district or charter school. Under the bill, students in kindergarten through second grade could not be expelled or suspended (out of school only) from school, except as provided pursuant to the “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act,” P.L.1995, c.127 (C.18A:37-7 et seq.) or if the conduct that precipitated the expulsion/suspension is of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others.
Pursuant to the legislation, school districts and charter schools would be required to implement an early detection and prevention program to identify students in preschool through grade two who are experiencing behavioral or disciplinary problems, and provide behavioral supports for these students, which may include, but need not be limited to, remediation of problem behaviors, positive reinforcements, supportive interventions, and referral services. An early detection and prevention program could be incorporated into the system of intervention and referral services that is required to be established in each school under current State Board of Education regulations at N.J.A.C.6A:16-8.1 to 8.2.
NJPSA explained to the committee that the policy codified by the bill is consistent with New Jersey school policy generally. As such, NJPSA supports the intent of the bill. It is our understanding that the bill stems from federal advocacy efforts.
Child Abuse Registry Check
Also approved was legislation, S-1210 (Bucco), which would require current employees and candidates for public school employment or service and youth camp employees to undergo child abuse record information check.
Under the bill, candidates for employment with a school district and employees of a contracted service provider, including school bus drivers, who are required under current law to undergo a criminal history record check would also be required to undergo a child abuse record information check via the Department of Children and Families, which maintains the State’s child abuse registry pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.11). The bill requires the candidate for employment or service to provide prior written consent for the child abuse record information check and to pay for the cost of the check. In the case of a school bus driver, the child abuse record information check would be required prior to initial employment and upon application for renewal of a school bus driver’s license. If the Department of Children and Families determines upon a search of its child abuse registry that an allegation of child abuse or neglect has been substantiated against the candidate, the candidate would be permanently disqualified from employment or service with a school district.
In addition, the bill would require child abuse record information checks for employees of a school district or a contracted service provider who are already employed on the effective date of the bill in positions that require a criminal history record check as a condition of employment. If a finding of substantiated child abuse was found, an employee would be immediately removed and would be permanently disqualified from future employment
NJPSA, as well as her sister stakeholders, NJEA and NJASA had concern with the legislation as it relates to due process considerations for current employees. NJPSA is committed to working with sponsor to resolve procedural issues with the bill as drafted.
Restraint & Seclusion of Students With Disabilities
Finally, the Committee approved legislation, S-1163 (O’Toole), which would establish new requirements for use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities in school districts and approved private schools for students with disabilities. The legislation also requires the NJDOE to collect and report data regarding restraint and seclusion. The bill was extensively amended from its introduced version in Committee.
As amended, the legislation requires a school district or an approved private school for students with disabilities that chooses to utilize physical restraint on students with disabilities to ensure that:
- physical restraint is used only in an emergency in which the student is exhibiting behavior that places the student or others in immediate physical danger;
- a student is not restrained in the prone position unless the student’s primary care physician authorizes the use of this restraint technique;
- staff members who are involved in the restraint of a student receive training in safe techniques for physical restraint. This training must be updated at least annually; and
- the parent or guardian of a student is immediately notified by telephone or through some means of electronic communication when physical restraint has been used on the student. A full written report of the incident must be provided to the parent or guardian within 48 hours of the occurrence of the incident.
The bill also requires a school district or private school for students with disabilities to ensure that a seclusion technique is used on a student with disabilities only with the prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician or in an emergency in which the student is exhibiting behavior that places the student or others in immediate physical danger.
The bill provides that for the use of either physical restraints or seclusion techniques:
- each incident must be visually monitored;
- each incident must be documented in writing in detail; and
- attempts must be made to minimize the use of these measures through the development and implementation of individualized comprehensive, positive behavior intervention plans.
In addition, under the provisions of the bill, the Department of Education is required to annually collect and publish on its website data from school districts and private schools for students with disabilities on the number of times a physical restraint or a seclusion technique was utilized on a student and the type and duration of the physical restraint or seclusion technique that was used, and the number of students on which a physical restraint or a seclusion technique was utilized. The department will disaggregate the data by county and by the race, gender, and age of the student.
NJPSA is monitoring this legislation. The Association had some integral discussions with the bill sponsor prior to the day’s hearing which led to substantial modification of the bill.