June 1 was an action-packed day at the State Legislature with a dozen separate committees considering legislation on a range of topics. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee favorably released the following legislation impacting public education:
This legislation requires the Commissioner of Education to include data on chronic absenteeism and disciplinary suspension on the School Report Card and requires schools to take certain steps to address issues of chronic absenteeism. As in the NJDOE Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan, chronic absence is where a student is absent more than 10% of school days during an academic year. The legislation provides that where a public school has more than 10% of its students chronically absent, that school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates at the school. Specifically, the plan must include:
- Methods to identify problems and barriers to school attendance;
- Recommendations to address those barriers;
- Communication strategies for parent outreach on attendance issues;
- Protocols on informing and engaging parents where a child begins to show a pattern of absences; and
- A review of school policies to ensure that they support enhanced attendance.
In the development of the Corrective Action Plan, schools must solicit input from parents through multiple means, including through the administration of a survey, engaging with the school’s parents’ organization and /or a meeting with local parents. School plans, which must be presented to the board of education, must be annually reviewed and revised until absenteeism rates fall below 10% of the student body. The Commissioner of Education will include absenteeism rates and the number and percentage of students who received disciplinary suspensions on the annual School Report Cards.
NJPSA was successful in its efforts to seek an amendment to the bill from its original version which required the creations of a Chronic Absenteeism Coalition composed of at least one parent, a teacher, and other members determined by the principal. NJPSA raised concerns about the confidentiality of student information.
The bill was unanimously released, as amended, by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
S-2242 (Diegnan)/A-3347 (Diegnan/Wolfe)
This legislation establishes the N.J. School Safety Specialist Academy within the NJ Department of Education. The Academy will be a central repository for best practices, training standards, and compliance oversight in all matters concerning school safety and security, including prevention efforts, intervention efforts and emergency preparedness training. The Academy will develop and implement a School Safety Specialist Certification Program and will offer training to newly appointed school safety specialists in each school district. The superintendent will appoint the specialist who must be a school administrator. NJPSA was successful in its efforts to have this training offered free of charge to school districts and specialists. Each specialist must earn this certification to serve as the district’s school safety specialist and to serve as Liaison with local, state and national law enforcement agencies on issues of school safety and security. This legislation is the result of specific recommendations in the July 2015 New Jersey School Security Task Force report.
S-2711 (Vitale/Rice), A-3386 (Schaer/Vainieri Huttle)
This legislation provides protections for children under the age of 18 with developmental disabilities and individual with developmental disabilities ages 18-21 receiving services form the Division of Children’s System of Care. It also establishes procedures for the transfer of investigative reports relating to an act of child abuse or neglect. The bill also requires a child abuse registry check for all individual caregivers who will work with these children under the Department of Children.
A-3798 (Singleton)/S-211 (Holzapfel/Whelan)
The Assembly Budget Committee released A-3798 (Singleton), S- 211(Holzapfel/Whelan), legislation authorizing the use of a school bus monitoring system which employs cameras on school buses. These cameras, partnered with a computer, are designed to record a digital image of any motor vehicle operating near a school bus. Where a car passes a school bus, the digital image would be used to fine the driver with a system of escalating civil penalties. Local municipalities and school districts are authorized under the legislation to authorize the use of these digital cameras. Fines would be utilized by local municipalities and school districts. No points will be assessed against a driver under this legislation. NJPSA supports this legislation as a permissible method for towns and districts to enhance student safety during transport to and from school.
The legislation described above, having been favorably released in committee, is now at Second Reading and is likely to be posted for a final vote during June.