Several Ed Bills Move Forward As March Toward End of LameDuck Continues

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Several committees met December 18, moving measures affecting students and schools.

Student Restraints

A-501/S-1163 (Russo / Sweeney / OToole) would establish certain requirements for the use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities in school districts, educational services commissions, and approved private schools for students with disabilities (school entities).  The bill was amended extensively at the December 18 hearing.

As amended by the committee, the bill requires school entities that choose 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, in writing, 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 from an entity determined by the board of education to be qualified to provide such training.  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 entity to ensure that a seclusion technique is used on a student with disabilities only 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 continuously visually monitored to ensure that it was used in accordance with established procedures set forth in a board policy developed in conjunction with the entity that provides staff training, so as to ensure the safety of the child and others;
  • an incident must be documented in writing in detail so it can be used to develop or improve the behavior intervention plan at the next individualized education plan (IEP) meeting; and
  • attempts must be made to minimize the use of these measures through the inclusion of positive behavior supports in the student’s behavior intervention plans developed by the IEP team.

The bill also requires the Department of Education to establish guidelines to ensure a review process is in place for districts to review the use of physical restraints and seclusion techniques in emergency situations and the repeated use of these measures on a single student, within a single classroom, or by a single individual. The student’s IEP team may use this review process to revise the behavioral intervention plan or classroom supports, and the school district, educational services commission, or approved private school for students with disabilities may use the review process to determine whether to revise a staff member’s professional development plan.

NJPSA expressed that, while the amendments were an improvement over the prior version of the bill, we look forward to working with the sponsor to address some residual concerns we have around distinguishing definitions (e.g. timeout versus seclusion) as well as clarifying language as it relates to incorporation with an IEP, as well as the breadth and extent of the guidance and training districts will receive.

The legislation will now move back to the Senate for concurrence with the amendments, and simultaneously move forward in the Assembly.  It is unknown whether the bill will be reconciled in time for the end of this legislative session.  

Emergency Lights & Panic Alarms

In addition, the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee approved legislation that was previously conditionally vetoed by the Governor last session.  Assembly bill A-191 / S-2313 (Caputo / Rice) would require school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to local law enforcement.  NJPSA was able to obtain an amendment back in last session that allowed School Development Authority (SDA) funding to finance the improvements.  The bill is now headed to the full Senate for a vote and final passage.

Chronic Absenteeism

Further, the Assembly Appropriations Committee moved several measures forward toward final passage, including S-447/A-2352 (Ruiz/Vainieri Huttle) which would require the Commissioner of Education to include data on chronic absenteeism and disciplinary suspensions on School Report Card and requires public schools to make certain efforts to combat chronic absenteeism.  The legislation now moves to the full Assembly for consideration.  If approved, the legislation will head to the Governor’s desk.

Specifically, the bill would mandate that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. The plan must include, but need not be limited to:

  • identifying problems and barriers to school attendance;
  • developing recommendations to address those problems and barriers;
  • outlining communication strategies to educate parents on the importance of school attendance;
  • establishing protocols on informing and engaging parents when a child begins to show a pattern of absences; and
  • reviewing school policies to ensure that they support improved school attendance.

Under the bill, the school must solicit input from parents through multiple means, including through the administration of a survey, engaging with the school’s parent organization, and, if the school does not have a parent organization, holding a public meeting to provide parents with the opportunity to provide input. The school would be required to present its corrective action plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan, and present the revisions to the board, until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

The bill would also require the Commissioner of Education to include data on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent, and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension in the school report cards. This information is currently on the State Performance Reports.

The commissioner must annually review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district and report on the rates to the State Board of Education.  Chronic absenteeism was included in the State’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan earlier this year as the school wide metric.  

Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) has long sought legislation.  The bill is also supported by the League of Women Voters, the Junior League as well as several education groups including NJASA, NJEA, NJPTA, Garden State Coalition of Schools (GSCS), JerseyCAN and NJSBA  NJPSA is monitoring the legislation after successfully working to eliminate a requirement that would have mandated the establishment of a new committee to examine absence issues which would have included a parent, in light of student privacy concerns.

Dual Language Immersion

The Appropriations Committee also approved legislation, A-4318 / S-2704 (Benson / DeCroce, B. / Diegnan / Ruiz), which would require the Commissioner of Education to establish a grant program for school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in the north, south and central regions of the State.  The program would provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner.  To be eligible for the funds, a school district or charter school would have to provide at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner.  The program would have to begin in kindergarten or in grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner.

The bill also establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund as a non-lapsing revolving fund in the Department of Education to finance the grant program.  The fund will be credited with all moneys appropriated by the Legislature, any gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund, and any other available revenue.  NJPSA supports the legislation.  The bill is also headed to the Assembly floor for final consideration and vote.  

Immunity for PSSDs

Finally, the full Senate approved legislation, A-4457 / S-3359 (Caride / Sweeney), that provides civil immunity to board of director members and employees of private schools for students with disabilities (PSSD) if they report incidents of bullying in compliance with school policy.  The legislation comes out of recent changes to regulation that modifies the relationships of PSSD employees in harassment, intimidation and bullying investigations (State Board Approves Changes To HIB Investigatory Requirements & NJQSAC Monitoring, Also Honors Lighthouse Districts, November 2, 2017).