The Senate Education Committee returned from budget break with a vengeance May 7, moving a number of education related pieces of legislation.
This legislation would establish the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the Department of Education, which would serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators regarding special education rights and services. Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education would appoint a Special Education Ombudsman who is qualified by training and experience to perform the duties of the office. The ombudsman would also be skilled in communication, conflict resolution, and professionalism.
The duties of the Special Education Ombudsman would include, at a minimum, the following:
- to serve as a source of information regarding State and federal laws and regulations governing special education;
- to provide information and support to parents of students with disabilities in navigating and understanding the process for obtaining special education evaluations and services;
- to provide information and communication strategies to parents and school districts for resolving disagreements concerning special education issues, and to educate parents on the available options for resolving such disputes;
- to work neutrally and objectively with all parties to help ensure that a fair process is followed and that the special education system functions equitably and as intended;
- to identify any patterns of complaints that emerge regarding special education rights and services, and to recommend strategies for improvement to the Department of Education;
- to assist the department in creating public information programs that educate parents and the public about the ombudsman’s duties; and
- to serve as a resource for disability-related information and referrals to other available programs and services for individuals with disabilities, including early intervention and transition to adult life.
Communication between the ombudsman and individual parties would be treated confidentially. The Ombudsman would be required to make an annual report to the State Board of Education and the Commissioner on the services provided by the Ombudsman in the prior year.
Education stakeholders, including NJPSA, support the measure. NJPSA requested that the duties of the Ombudsman be potentially informed by the imminently forthcoming report by the Special Education Taskforce.
- S1594 (Turner) – Requires a public school district to provide a daily recess period for students in grades kindergarten through 5
This bill requires that districts provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through 5. The recess period would be held outdoors, if feasible. The bill also provides that recess will not be permitted to be used to meet the current statutory requirements regarding the provision of health, safety, and physical education courses in public schools, which are set forth in State law at N.J.S.A. 18A:35-5.
NJPSA supports this legislation as introduced this session. The Association had some concern with the legislation as previously introduced in prior sessions at it forestalled recess from being held adjacent to physical education classes.
- S1805 (Beck / Pou) – Allows individual appointed as State monitor to remain employed for more than two years without cancellation of retirement benefits
Under current law, if an individual is receiving a retirement allowance from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF), and the individual becomes employed in a position covered by TPAF, then the individual would cease to receive a pension allowance and would resume making payments to the pension system. The law provides for two exceptions to this provision:
- someone employed by the Department of Education in a position of critical needs, and
- a superintendent or administrator employed by a school district on a contractual basis.
In the latter case, the term of the contract may not be for more than one year, and may be renewed for one additional year. A State monitor appointed by the Commissioner of Education to oversee a school district is considered, for most purposes, to be an employee of the school district; as such, an individual who has retired would be subject to the two-year restriction. This bill creates a distinction between a State monitor and other individuals employed by a school district, thereby exempting the State monitors from the two-year limitation.
NJPSA is monitoring this legislation in light of concerns with the legislation’s impact on the pension fund. While continuity in support is essential, the legislation may sent a bad precedent. We look forward to working with the sponsors to address these concerns going forward.
- S2275 (Stack) – Designates cheerleading as interscholastic sport; requires safety harness at health clubs with members who are cheerleaders.
The bill requires the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to establish cheerleading as an interscholastic athletic program, and requires certain health clubs (e.g. gyms and fitness centers) to have a safety harness available for use by cheerleaders.
NJSIAA raised some concern with the legislation related to the process by which the sport would be included as an interscholastic sport. Typically this is organically determined by member schools. NJPSA supported the intent of the legislation but urged the sponsor and the committee to work out technical and process issues before the legislation were to move forward.
- S2513 / A1468 (Barnes, III / Diegnan / Watson Coleman / Lampitt) – Establishes Task Force on Engineering Curriculum and Instruction.
This bill establishes in the Department of Education a Task Force on Engineering Curriculum and Instruction. The task force would consist of 10 members, including the Commissioner of Education or a designee, and nine public members appointed by the Governor as follows: one representative each from the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association; a representative of an engineering program at a public institution of higher education; a representative of an engineering program at an independent institution of higher education; a representative of a nonprofit organization that provides science education programming in the public schools; and two representatives from New Jersey-based engineering, science, and technology businesses. Under the bill, the task force is charged with making recommendations to the State Board of Education on how to incorporate engineering curriculum into the K-12 science curriculum. The task force must review the Next Generation Science Standards in its efforts to develop innovative ways to teach engineering to public school students.
NJPSA supports this legislation.
- SR105 (Kean) – Urges Merriam-Webster, Inc. and the Oxford University Press to include word upstander in dictionary
This resolution urges Merriam-Webster, Inc. and the Oxford University Press to include the word ‘upstander’ in dictionary.
In 2002, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, first introduced the word ‘upstander to describe a person in her book, A Problem from Hell: America & The Age of Genocide, who defied logic, risked their careers and lives, and spoke up on behalf of distant victims. An upstander is an individual who chooses to take positive action in the face of injustice in society or in situations in which individuals need assistance. An upstander is also a person who stands up to bullying, whether at school, home, work, house of worship, or out with friends, family, colleagues, or teammates.
NJPSA supports this legislation.