Changes to regulations related to investigation of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) as well as educator effectiveness (evaluation) moved forward for publication in the New Jersey Register at the July 2016 State Board of Education meeting. The Board also received presentations on school security efforts and implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). In addition, the Board moved forward with emergency changes to regulation related to lead testing.
Continuing a process that began earlier this year with a presentation by the Anti-bullying Taskforce, the Board approved changes to Programs to Support Student Development, N.J.A.C. 6A:16, for publication in the New Jersey Register, with some amendment from the original proposal. The publication will open up a 60 day comment period prior to consideration by the Board later this fall.
Principal Threshold Decision
Among the more integral changes is a proposal that would allow a principal to make, as part of the investigatory process, a preliminary or threshold decision, in concert with the Anti-Bullying Specialist, as to whether student conduct constitutes HIB. Specifically, the proposal allows a district’s policy to include a process by which the principal, or his/her designee, in consultation with the ABS, can make a preliminary determination as to whether a reported incident or complaint is a report of an act of HIB prior to initiating an investigation (amendment to N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.7(a)2ix(1)). Among the changes made July 13 was clarification that such a decision is part of the investigatory process, rather than precedent to the investigatory process.
Power Imbalance & Student Specifics
The code change also seeks to clarify the definition of what constitutes HIB in light of some confusion in the field around the catch all provision in the law which requires schools investigate and determine if an HIB incident has occurred in instances where ‘any other distinguishing characteristic’ is the basis for an issue. To do this, the code proposal adds a statement to N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.7(a)2iii that states that bullying constitutes ‘unwanted, aggressive behavior that may involve a real or perceived power imbalance.’ In addition, the proposal affirmatively notes that districts can consider a student’s disability when determining remedial action or consequence, proposing to amend N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.7(a)2v and 2vi(1).
ABS Conflict of Interest
Further, the code clarifies that incidents committed by an adult can constitute HIB by amending N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.7(a)2viii. The proposal would additionally prohibit the investigation of a complaint concerning adult conduct by an individual who is a member of the same bargaining unit as the individual who is subject to the investigation (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.7(a)2ix(2)).
The proposal additionally outlines specific dates by which schools and parents must act related to an HIB incident:
- adding the statutory requirement that parents or guardians receive the required written information about the HIB investigation “within five school days” after the results are reported to the board;
- including a provision specifying that a parent or must request hearing before the district board of education (BOE) within 45 calendar days after receiving the written information about the investigation; and
- including the statutory requirement that the BOE must hold a hearing within 10 business days of the request (Please note that the statute requires the hearing to take place within 10 calendar days, NOT school days. NJPSA will be recommending a technical revision on that point).
Moreover, the proposal clarifies that reports and/or findings of the school safety/school climate team(s) should be included in the BOE’s required annual re-evaluation, reassessment, and review of its HIB policy. The proposal also recommends law enforcement should be included in the planning of programs or other responses to the annual review of the HIB policy and in the planning of programs, approaches, and initiatives designed to create school wide conditions to prevent HIB. All changes to district policy must be submitted to the Executive County Superintendent.
School Climate/Safety Team
Additionally, the code proposal modifies the name of the ‘school safety team’ to ‘school climate/safety team’ to better reflect the work of the group. The proposal further specifies who the school safety/school climate team should consist of, as well as who should chair the team (the ABS). The proposal also adds a rule to specify that if a parent or other member of the school safety/school climate team is not authorized to access student records, the individual’s role is limited to general school climate issues.
Finally, the code proposal affirmatively include private schools for students with disabilities (PSSD) within the auspices of the law, creating a new sub-chapter. While today’s amendment include some technical changes to this new requirement – it retains intact this new responsibility. That said, although the investigatory rules are generally the same in the PSSD environment, the code modifies the investigatory appeal process to include the sending board of education where an incident occurs in such a school.
- NJDOE Initial Presentation on Proposed Changes to Programs to Support Student Development Code (April 2016)
- NJDOE Revised Presentation on Proposed Changes to Programs to Support Student Development (July 2016)
- Presentation of Anti-Bullying Taskfore
- Final Report of Anti-Bullying Taskforce
- Revised Code Proposal (July 2016): Programs to Support Student Development
The Board also approved modifications to current evaluation rules housed in N.J.A.C. 6A:9C, Professional Development and N.J.A.C.6A:10, Educator Effectiveness. The following outline the specifics of the proposal across five (5) areas:
The Department made some limited changes to the original proposal at the July meeting. Included within these were some modest changes related to requiring mutual agreement between highly effective teachers and supervisors to participate in alternative evaluative process and some safeguard language as it relates to educators on corrective action plans. In addition, the proposal continues the existence of the DEAC committee for another year.
The proposal is slated for potential adoption by December 2016. NJPSA had a chance to weigh before State Board members back in June expressing agreement with much of the proposal (NJPSA Testimony). Evaluation weights for the 2016-17 have not yet been set and will be announced by August 31.
The Board also received an update from Department personnel on implementation efforts of new requirements wrought by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which was enacted late last year. Based upon the presentation the Department is actively engaged with various stakeholders generally with an eye toward zeroing in on specific areas for community input beginning in the fall.
Currently the Department has 16 different working groups engaged, with expected input to be sought from a number of advisory groups, as well as public testimony scheduled for early September.
In addition, the Board received a presentation from the Office of School Preparedness & Emergency Planning on the training they do with school districts around the State. The presenters, Jeff Gale and Ben Castillo, also provided an overview of the drill work they do with districts in light of legislation, enacted several years ago, that require different security drills on a monthly basis.
The Board also had a first discussion, under a compressed time frame, on modifications to the Educational Facilities code, N.J.A.C. 6A:26 as it relates to lead testing in school drinking water, following a May directive by Gov. Chris Christie that campuses check for lead. Under the proposed regulation, all public schools must test every water outlet used for drinking or food preparation within a year of the rule’s adoption, and once every six years thereafter.
State education officials said they are allowing districts a year to comply with the initial mandate – and possible extensions – since testing laboratories may be inundated with work orders and not able to get to every district immediately. Under the proposed rules, districts must post their results online within 24 hours of their school boards receiving the results. In instances where lead levels are at or above 15 parts per billion, families must be notified.
The vote at the Board meeting July 13 was a special vote that allowed the board to bypass the regular rules adoption process, which would normally include a public comment period, to avoid delaying enactment. The board will have to adopt a permanent rules change within a year, education officials said.
Further, the Board also had a first discussion on changes to regulation as it relates to student transportation, N.J.A.C 6A:27, in light of the enactment of Abigail’s Law. That law required school buses manufactured on or after July 17, 2016, to be equipped with a sensor system to detect the presence of a person(s) or object(s) in the front and rear of the bus. The sensor system is to include an audible and visual alert signal placed in the driver’s compartment to alert the driver when a person(s) or object(s) is detected within the sensor’s designated range. Public testimony is scheduled for next month on the proposed changes.
Further, the Board adopted changes to the code related to the School Ethics Commission, N.J.A.C. 6A:28. The provision is proposed for readoption without amendment.
The Board additionally approved 18 reviews, 5 full and 13 interim under NJQSAC. Appendix A lists all of the districts and their DPR scores. Five districts scored 80 percent or above in all five DPR areas and were approved for a period of three years. Thirteen districts scored below 80% in one or more DPR areas and were required to develop and implement a QSAC improvement plan to address deficient indicators.