The New Jersey State Board of Education met for their monthly meeting in Trenton on Wednesday, October 4, 2023. The 2023-2024 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year was honored and the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics were narrowly approved during the meeting. Once again, politics infiltrated the conversation on curriculum and the Board members engaged in a lengthy and robust discussion, this time about the inclusion of climate change education in math and language arts. New Jersey is the first state in the nation to incorporate climate change education across all of our K-12 learning standards.
October’s meeting got off to a celebratory start as Mr. Joseph (“Joe”) Nappi was recognized and celebrated as the 2023/2024 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. Mr. Nappi is a social studies teacher at Monmouth Regional High School in the Monmouth Regional High School District. Nappi joins a notable family of other outstanding New Jersey educators who continue to strive to make a difference in the education system in our state.
Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan provided an update on the Department of Education’s New Jersey Partnership for Student Success (NJPSS) initiative. Launched in December 2022, it is designed to leverage statewide support to address critical educational challenges, including academic and mental health needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NJDOE Division of Teaching and Learning Services then shared volunteer and programmatic updates with the Board. In their presentation to the Board, the Department provided an overview of the ways in which the Partnership has grown since December. The Call to Action Volunteer program is one component of the NJPSS initiative . Since their last presentation, their numbers of volunteers have almost doubled from 259 to 517 volunteers that the Department has matched with LEAs.
The State Board also considered a Resolution to Adopt the long-awaited NJSLS for ELA and Mathematics. The Division of Teaching and Learning, Office of Standards, presented the responsive revisions to the 2023 New Jersey Student Learning Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics to the Board. As you might know, this process began more than a year ago, in July 2022, when a panel of experts met over a period of three days to discuss the content and the recent challenges of the implementation of the 2016 NJSLS. Overall, the Department received almost 750 comments during the public comment period. Comments provided were both in support of and in opposition to the revisions. The majority of comments concerned the inclusion of climate change education in the ELA and math standards.
In response to concerns raised by the public, the Department worked closely with the State Board of Education’s Policy Committee to carefully consider the feedback. As a result, the Department removed over sixty climate change education examples from the standard documents. Where the specific climate change examples have been removed, the icon signaling the opportunity for climate change integration remains. This allows LEAs to customize opportunities in their local curricula as they sit fit.
Vice President Mulvihill began the discussion of the Board by declaring his opposition to integration of climate change into the math and English standards. Other State Board members, while not entirely agreeing with Mr. Mulvihill, did express a feeling that the board should leave recommendations for teaching climate change out of the standards for math and language arts. Board Member Joe Ricca took issue with putting recommendation in standards. His concern was not with this particular content, but what it might mean for the future content of educational standards. Ricca voted no, expressly because he could not support including such recommendations in learning standards. Several Board members expressed regret that politics is becoming a typical part of board discussions.
The motion carried by a 6-4 vote approving the standards, with one abstention.
The State Board of Education also heard a proposal for limited amendments to Chapter 14, Special Education, in order to ensure students continue to receive all the services to which they are entitled. In its presentation to the Board, the NJDOE explained their proposal to allow related services to be provided in the following limited circumstances when a student with disability is:
1) Suffering from a chronic or temporary health condition, preventing the student from attending school and when a parent submits a request with a written order from a student’s physician (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.9(c)(1));
2) Attends a district or school building that is closed for emergency reasons and when students are receiving virtual instruction. (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.9(c)(2))(This is already permissible under N.J.S.A. 18A7F-9.b); or
3) Requires a mandatory period of isolation/quarantine for at least five days (N.J.A.C. 6A:14- 3.9(c)(3)). The State Board unanimously approved for publication in the New Jersey Register the amendments to the rules at N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.9 and 5.1, pertaining to the provision of related services to students with disabilities.
The State Board also heard a presentation by the Office of Controversies and Disputes Division of Legal and External Services regarding the Readoption of Chapter 3 with Amendments. Chapter 3 establishes the procedures for the filing of petitions with the Commissioner to hear and determine all controversies and disputes arising under the school laws. The Department explained that the goals of the proposed amendments are to:
- ensure consistency with current practice, particularly the significant increase in filings by email;
- provide clear direction to the public to make filing petitions easier, more efficient, and less costly and
- streamline the processing of petitions and improve the time period for transmitting matters to the Office of Administrative Law for further proceedings.
Finally, under New Business, Vice-President Mulvihill asked about the possibility of reopening Chapter 7 (Equity code). This issue will be placed on the agenda for next month’s meeting for discussion. Stay tuned!
For further information about this, or any prior NJ State Board of Education meeting, visit the NJ State Board of Education website.