A number of bills are slated for gubernatorial review in the coming days. They include legislation related to student expulsions and suspensions, Response to Intervention (RTI) and the creation of a new class of law enforcement to provide school security.
Approved 78-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate, S-496 / A-2566 (Ruiz / Diegnan / Jasey / Wimberly), 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 (NJPSA testimony)
Additionally approved (74-1-1 in the Assembly and 38-0 in the Senate) was legislation, S-86 (Bucco / Sweeney), a bipartisan bill establishing a new class of police officers to provide security to schools and county colleges. Specifically, the measure would create a new “class three” special law enforcement officer. Under the bill, retired officers under 65 who previously worked full time or others could be hired under the new class. The new class would be permitted to carry a firearm if the officer meets the statutory requirements for retired officers to carry handguns and qualifies to use a firearm twice a year.
Under the bill, class three officers would be allowed to respond to off-campus incidents or emergencies if the events occurred in their presence while en-route to school. While NJPSA supports the legislation conceptually, we were concerned to see a provision that would have required class 3 officers to receive School Resource Officer (SRO) training, removed from the legislation. NJSBA voiced similar concerns. NJPSA will continue to advocate for the inclusion of the provision. In the alternative, we look forward to working with NJSBA to recommend the training as a best practice.
Limiting Expulsions & Suspensions in P-2
Additionally approved was 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. The legislation also passed both houses (56-16-5 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the Senate).
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 throughout the legislative process 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.
The Governor has the opportunity to sign the legislation, conditionally veto it (returning it for changes) or veto it absolutely.