Both the Senate Education Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee met this week to advance various measures impacting public education in our state. The Senate Education Committee agenda focused primarily on mental health issues including grief instruction and school absences due to mental health concerns. Principal Mike Lassiter from Highland Park High School, an experienced administrator with over 16 years’ experience as a principal and 28 years’ service to the Highland Park district, joined NJPSA in Trenton to provide testimony to the Committee. Chairman Gopal announced he is holding a hearing next week on the rise of teen suicide, particularly among teenage girls. Also on tap next week, both the Senate and General Assembly will hold voting sessions, and Governor Murphy will address a joint session of the Legislature to deliver his FY2024 Budget Address. It’s a busy time in Trenton, and your NJPSA Government Relations team will report all of the most recent updates from under the Golden Dome.
The Senate Education Committee met on Thursday, February 23rd.
Requires NJ Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to prepare report regarding suicide prevention instruction in public schools
S-1662 requires the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to prepare a report regarding suicide prevention instruction in public schools. The report is required to include the following: (1) identifying the suicide prevention instruction already provided to public school teaching staff members and students; (2) reviewing the effectiveness and sufficiency of instruction in suicide prevention currently provided to public school teaching staff members and students; (3) identifying any methods public schools may use to identify students who may be at risk for suicide or self-injury; (4) identifying evidence-based and best practice programs in public schools for the prevention of youth suicide and self-injury, including a survey of programs being implemented in surrounding states; (5) identifying opportunities to enhance access to mental health treatment in public schools; and (6) findings and recommendations, including legislative and regulatory proposals, to improve suicide prevention instruction. The council is required to submit the report to the Governor and Legislature no later than 12 months after the effective date of the act. NJPSA initiated amendments require input from the field. The Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill and S-1662 is now on 2nd Reading in the Senate. NJPSA supports this bill as amended.
Requires school districts to provide instruction on grief as part of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education
S-3330.requires school districts to include instruction on grief in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades eight through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The instruction is to include information on the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of grief; coping mechanisms and techniques for handling grief and loss; and resources available to students, including in-school support, mental health crisis support, and individual and group therapy. Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education is required to provide school districts with age-appropriate sample learning activities and resources designed to implement the requirement to include instruction on grief in the public school curriculum. NJPSA and other stakeholder groups were able to secure an amendment that put the grief instruction as part of the NJSLS. The Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill and S-3330 is now on 2nd Reading in the Senate. NJPSA supports this bill as amended.
Directs NJDOE to develop guidelines for school districts concerning student mental health services
S-3543 directs the Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Children and Families, to develop and distribute to school districts guidelines for providing mental health services to students. The purpose of the guidelines will be to assist school districts in enhancing and improving mental health services for students. Under the bill, the guidelines will be reviewed and updated annually by the Department of Education. In developing and updating the guidelines, the department will seek the input and recommendations of school district administrators, educators, mental health professionals, and other appropriate stakeholders. The Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill and S-3543 is now on 2nd Reading in the Senate. NJPSA supports this bill.
The following three bills were heard by the Senate Education Committee for Discussion Only. The Committee Members heard public testimony on these bills, but took no other action. These bills may be posted for a vote at a future meeting.
Establishes requirements for removal of students from public school pending mental health clearance – Discussion Only
S-3554 would require that school districts, educational services commissions, and approved private schools for students with disabilities follow specific procedures when the district, educational services commission, or approved private school for students with disabilities makes a determination to remove a student from school for mental health clearance by a licensed mental health clinician in order to return to school. A mental health clearance is defined as an assessment conducted by a licensed mental health clinician to determine, at the time of the assessment, whether a student is substantially likely to injure themselves or others if returned to school. NJPSA provided testimony supporting the intent of this bill to address an issue that is of such great concern to our members, but expressed significant concerns with some of the provisions in this initial draft of legislation. We look forward to working with the other educational stakeholder groups and the bill Sponsor. NJPSA would like to thank Principal Mike Lassiter for his advocacy, and for making the time to share the important voice of principals.
Requires school districts to permit students five excused absences for mental or behavioral health reasons – Discussion Only
S-2151 would entitle each public school student in New Jersey to up to five absences from school for mental or behavioral health reasons which are to be considered State-recognized excused absences. After two mental or behavioral health absences, the student may be referred to the appropriate school support staff. The five mental or behavioral health absences would not count toward the 10 percent of days missed before a student is considered “chronically absent” and cannot be used to exclude a student from any awards or recognition on the basis of attendance. As an excused absence, students are required to be given the opportunity to make up any school work that was missed during the mental or behavioral health absence. In order to have the absence recognized as a mental or behavioral health absence the student may be required, by the school district, to provide any non-medical documentation which the superintendent or administrative principal of the school district deems necessary. NJPSA provided testimony opposing this approach to enabling students to be absent from school due to a mental or behavioral health concern, and instead recommends a more permissive and locally-based approach.
Permits school districts to define excused absences from school to include illness based on student’s mental or behavioral health and requires the Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines for defining excused absence for this reason – Discussion Only
S-2414 would provide a statutory authority for a school district, in developing, adopting, and implementing its policies and procedures regarding attendance of students at school, to define an excused absence from school to include an absence for an illness of the student based on the mental or behavioral health of the student. The bill requires the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health, to develop guidelines on defining an excused absence from school for a student’s illness based on the mental or behavioral health of the student. The guidelines will include the supporting documentation that may be required by the school district upon the student’s return to school after an absence for an illness based on the mental or behavioral health of the student for the absence to be considered an excused absence. NJPSA supports the concept of this bill.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee met on February 23rd
Establishes the Office of Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth in DOE, and the Student Dropout Prevention Task Force.
A-398/S-3080 establishes the Office of Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth in the Department of Education. The amended bill requires the office: to collaborate with school districts in the development of a Statewide strategic plan to address the problem of student dropouts; recommend and develop programs to prevent students from dropping out of school; and address issues associated with the reenrollment of students who have left school prior to graduation. NJPSA was able to secure an amendment guaranteeing that the task force will have a principal as one of the members. A-398 was unanimously approved by the Committee and is now on 2nd Reading in the Assembly. NJPSA supports this bill as amended.
Establishes New Jersey Educator Scholarship Program
A-3681 would establish the New Jersey Educator Scholarship Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA), in coordination with the Department of Education. The purpose of the scholarship program is to provide incentives for students to pursue careers in education. A-3681 was unanimously approved by the Committee and is now on 2nd Reading in the Assembly. NJPSA supports this bill as amended.
Revises various provisions of law governing construction of school facilities projects and operations of New Jersey Schools Development Authority
A-4496 provides various changes to the laws governing the construction of school facilities projects and the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA). NJPSA has expressed concerns about how the bill provides for a State funding mechanism for school facilities projects undertaken by charter schools and renaissance school projects physically located in SDA districts in prior testimony. A-4496 was voted favorably out of the Committee by a vote of (9-1). The bill is now on 2nd Reading in the Assembly.
Permits State Board of Education to authorize alternative teaching certifications
A-4525/S-1553 would permit teacher candidates who meet all criteria for a certificate of eligibility (CE) or a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing (CEAS), other than the requirement to meet certain minimum testing thresholds in either Praxis Core or Praxis II Subject Tests, to receive an alternative certificate of eligibility or alternative certificate of eligibility with advanced standing, as applicable. Upon completion of four years of continuous employment using an alternative certificate or an alternative certificate with advanced standing, the teacher is eligible to receive a standard certificate, provided that the teacher meets all applicable requirements for the standard certificate. The holder of an alternative certificate is able to use time employed using the certificate towards tenure requirements. The committee voted unanimously to advance this bill, and it is now on 2nd Reading in the Assembly.
Requires Commissioner of Education to distribute survey to school districts regarding instruction on Holocaust and genocides
A-4720 would direct the Commissioner of Education, in conjunction with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, to develop and distribute, within 60 days of the bill’s effective date, a survey regarding instruction on the Holocaust and genocides to the public schools of the State. The focus of the survey is how each school district is meeting the current statutory requirement established pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1994, c.13 (C.18A:35-28), that every board of education include instruction on the Holocaust and genocides in an appropriate place in the curriculum of all elementary and secondary school students. The survey is required to include questions, for all grade levels, on: curriculum content; learning goals; instructional strategies and activities; texts and resources; and assessments. The survey is to include questions, for teachers with experience providing instruction on the Holocaust and genocide, concerning the need for any additional resources or training to provide the instruction. In prior testimony, NJPSA supported conducting a survey regarding instruction on the Holocaust to the public schools in the State, however, opposed the language of the bill that calls for corrective action plans, recommending that the State take a less punitive and more supportive approach if schools are not meeting the statutory requirements. A-4720 was unanimously approved by the Committee and is now on 2nd Reading in the Assembly.
If you would like to discuss, or have questions about any of the legislative initiatives that moved this week, please contact your NJPSA Government Relations team. Department Director Debbie Bradley email@example.com or Assistant Director Jennie Lamon firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in legislation and education policy, please consider joining the NJPSA Legislative Committee. We meet approximately every other month to discuss and develop positions on pending legislation and regulations. We always have lively and often entertaining discussions! Email email@example.com for more information or to join our committee!
Also, please join us for the NJPSA Legislative Conference on March 24th. The registration is at the start of this weekly Government Relations Newsletter.
Please enjoy the weekend, and remember to unplug and take some time for self-care. We appreciate your advocacy – and all that you do.