The New Jersey Legislature has yet to agree to a finalized state budget. Nonetheless, the Statehouse is bustling with movement and meetings.
Senate Education Committee Action
On Monday, June 20th, the Senate Education Committee met and advanced various measures affecting New Jersey public schools. Legislation pertaining to graduation assessments, school safety and security, and policies regarding tick instruction, treatment and storage were considered.
High School Graduation Assessment Requirements
The committee considered two approaches to the issue of graduation assessment requirements contained in separate pieces of legislation, one approach simply addressing the Class of 2023 and the NJGPA and the second approach addressing future classes and long-term issues with the high school graduation statute that have plagued educators and students over the years. Debra Bradley, NJPSA Director of Government Relations, testified in support of both pieces of legislation which hopefully will be consolidated before a final vote is taken.
Graduation Proficiency Assessment as Field Test Only for Class of 2023
A-3196/S-2349 Requires State Board of Education to administer New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment as field test for class of 2023. This bill requires the State Board of Education, in coordination with the Commissioner of Education, to administer the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment as a field test for 11th grade students expected to graduate as part of the class of 2023. Under no circumstances would results of the field test, a substitute competency test, or any other demonstration of proficiency through techniques and instruments other than a standardized test be used as a prerequisite for graduation for students expected to graduate as part of the class of 2023. The bill also requires the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education to use the results of the test to assist in the development of State assessments for future graduating classes. Nothing in the bill would be construed to alter or amend local graduation requirements adopted by a board of education. The Senate Education Committee favorably reports the Assembly Committee Substitute for Assembly Bill No. 3196 by a vote of 5-0-0. The State Assembly passed the legislation on March 24, 2022. NJPSA supports this legislation.
Eliminates Requirement that Graduation Proficiency Assessment be Administered Specifically in 11th grade
S-50 Revises certain requirements concerning the state graduation proficiency test and eliminates the specific statutory language that the graduation proficiency test be administered to eleventh grade students. As amended, this bill provides for the development or designation of a Statewide assessment or assessments in reading, writing, and computational skills by the Commissioner of Education and approved by the State Board of Education. Under the bill, the State will be required to administer an assessment or assessments designed to test high school proficiency, and any student who initially does not demonstrate proficiency on the assessment or assessments is required to be given an opportunity to retest, but does not have to take the test more than once.
The bill contains a grandfather provision for students in the graduating classes of 2024 and 2025, providing that these students will be deemed to have met graduation assessment requirements if they satisfy the State Board of Education regulations, pursuant to N.J.A.C.6A:8-5.1, that were in place as of October 4, 2021 concerning graduation assessment requirements. This means the students must sit and take the state assessment (currently NJGPA) and if the student fails, he/she can retest if desired, or can access the array of alternative pathways that have been in place (alternative standardized tests like the SAT, PSAT, ACT, ASVAB, etc.) or utilize the portfolio assessment for graduation purposes.
Concerning the Class of 2023, the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA) administered as the State graduation proficiency test in March 2022 to 11th grade students, will be considered to be a field test and no standardized testing requirement will apply to the Class of 2023. The bill states, “under no circumstances would the results of the field test, a substitute competency test, or any other demonstration of proficiency through techniques and instruments other than a standardized test pursuant to current law be used as a prerequisite for graduation for students in the graduating class of 2023.” The rationale behind this policy is the failure of the NJDOE to fully field test and validate the NJGPA before it was given to the Class of 2023 for high stakes purposes. Additionally, this class had less opportunity to access alternative assessments due to the pandemic and equity issues exist across the state in terms of such access to alternative assessments.
The bill provides that, for the classes of 2026 and thereafter, the graduation proficiency assessment or assessments would be developed or designated by the Commissioner of Education, with the approval of the State Board of Education. The process for the development or designation by the commissioner of the graduation proficiency assessment or assessments would begin no later than 60 days following the date of enactment of the bill. The intent of this provision is to ensure that the development or designation of a graduation proficiency assessment for these graduating classes is started expeditiously. The 60-day timeline for the beginning of this process is also intended to provide for sufficient time for any field testing as appropriate and for the receipt of input and feedback from the education community prior to the administration of an assessment or assessments to all students. Under the bill, in the event that the Commissioner of Education develops or designates a new Statewide assessment or assessments, the commissioner is required to engage in a collaborative process with interested stakeholders in the education community to solicit feedback.
The bill also amends current law to provide that a district has a proactive duty to address the remediation needs of students that it determines to be at risk of not meeting State and district assessment standards for graduation.
NJPSA worked with the sponsor to secure important amendments to the bill to require that S-50 incorporate the important provisions of A-3196/S-2394 that hold that the NJGPA administered to the Class of 2023 in March 2022 would be considered a field test and no alternative standardized assessment would apply to this class for graduation purposes. You can read the NJPSA testimony here. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA supports this legislation.
Military-Connected Student Identifiers in Database
S-87 Requires DOE to include military-connected student identifier in student-level database; requires district to inform teacher when military-connected student enrolls in class taught by teacher. As amended, this bill requires the Department of Education to maintain an indicator for military-connected students in its student-level database. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to annually report statistics on the academic engagement and outcomes of these students, including attendance rates, performance on the State assessments, high school graduation rates, and post-secondary plans. The reported information will be consistent with the provisions of federal law that protect the confidentiality of student records.
The bill also requires that a classroom teacher be notified when a military-connected student enrolls in a class taught by that teacher. Under the amended bill, a parent or guardian may opt their child out of being identified as military-connected by the school district. If a parent or guardian opts their child out of being identified as military-connected, the school district will not notify the student’s classroom teacher upon enrollment. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA supports this legislation.
“School Bus Safety and Child Protection Act”
S-1999 Establishes “School Bus Safety and Child Protection Act,” requires periodic criminal background checks for certain school employees; and prohibits interference with school bus monitoring devices. The bill would make it a crime of the fourth degree to purposely alter, destroy, conceal or disable a monitoring device, including a camera or other medium used to record sound or images that is installed in a school bus. A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000 or both. The bill would also clarify that any school bus aide in the public and charter school systems, and any school that receives public funds for school buses is required to have a criminal history record check. Prospective aides and school bus drivers would also submit to a criminal history record check prior to starting employment and every four years thereafter in these schools. However, the bill provides that a person employed or under contract as a school bus driver may meet the bill’s requirement to have a criminal history check every four years by certifying that the individual has undergone a criminal history record check as part of the application for renewal of a school bus driver’s license. The bill also permits nonpublic schools to conduct similar criminal history record checks to those performed by public schools, charter schools, and schools that receive governmental funding for school buses. The bill would also require that the results of the criminal history record check be sent to the county superintendent of the county in which a bus driver or school bus aide would be employed. This bill would require that an employee who commits a disqualifying offense be suspended until the offense is adjudicated, and a conviction or other adverse adjudication would result in termination of the employee’s service. The bill also requires each school district that has cameras which record images on school buses to appoint an employee to randomly view such recorded images during each school year. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA has concerns about a significant change in the law regarding criminal history background checks and is currently Neutral on this bill.
Use of Therapy Dogs in Elementary Schools Pilot Program
S-2002 Establishes pilot program in DOE to use therapy dogs in public elementary school wellness programs. This bill establishes a three-year pilot program to assess the academic and health benefits associated with the use of therapy dogs in public elementary school wellness programs. A therapy dog is a dog that has been trained, evaluated, and registered with a handler to provide animal assisted therapy and other animal assisted activities within a school or other facility. Some research suggests that the use of therapy dogs in schools is associated with improvements in school attendance, confidence, motivation, and reading and writing skills.
Under the bill, a school district that wants to participate in the pilot program is required to submit an application to the commissioner. The application is required to include, but need not be limited to: the number of elementary schools in the school district; the number of students enrolled in each elementary school; information on student participation in wellness programs at each elementary school; and information on how the school district plans to use therapy dogs to promote student wellness. The commissioner will select two districts in each of the southern, central, and northern regions of the State to participate in the program and will seek a cross section of school districts from urban, suburban, and rural areas of the State. The commissioner will provide pilot districts with guidance regarding the use of therapy dogs in schools including: examples of activities that students may engage in with a therapy dog; recommended training requirements for therapy dog handlers; recommended measures to evaluate the health and appropriate behavior of therapy dogs; and insurance issues relevant to having therapy dogs on school district property. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA supports this legislation.
S-2411 Requires certain boards of education to select a minimum of three financial institutions or pension management organizations to provide tax sheltered annuity plans. This bill requires a board of education of a school district with a student enrollment of at least 1,000 students that offers a 403(b) plan to school district employees to select a minimum of three financial institutions or pension management organizations to provide services to the 403(b) plan. If fewer than three such financial institutions or pension management organizations are available, the board of education must select the number of financial institutions or pension management organizations available to meet the requirements of the bill. A financial institution or pension management organization that provides services to the 403(b) plan under the bill must: (1) enter into an agreement with the board of education that requires the financial institution or pension management organization to provide in an electronic format all data necessary for the administration of the 403(b) plan as determined by the board of education; and (2) provide all data required by the board of education to facilitate disclosure of all fees, charges, expenses, commissions, compensation, and payments to third parties related to investments offered under the 403(b) plan. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA is Neutral on this legislation.
Critical Incident Mapping Data
S-2426 Requires boards of education and chief administrators of nonpublic schools to submit critical incident mapping data to local law enforcement. As amended, this bill requires each board of education of a school district, board of trustees of a charter school or renaissance school project, and chief administrators of nonpublic schools to provide critical mapping data for all schools and school grounds to local law enforcement authorities. For purposes of the bill, “critical incident mapping data” means information provided in electronic or digital form to assist first responders in an emergency including, but not limited to aerial images of schools; floor plans, including room and suite numbers; building access points; locations of hazardous materials and utility shut-offs; and any other relevant location information.
Under current law, each board of education or chief school administrator of a nonpublic school is required to provide to local law enforcement authorities a copy of the current blueprints and maps for all schools and school grounds within the school district or nonpublic school. In the case of a school building located in a municipality in which there is no municipal police department, a copy of the blueprints and maps is required to be provided to an entity designated by the Superintendent of State Police. A board of education or chief school administrator of a nonpublic school is also required to provide revised copies to law enforcement authorities or a designated entity any time there is a change to the blueprints or maps.
The bill would amend current law to require boards of education of school districts, boards of trustees of charter schools and renaissance school projects, and chief administrators of nonpublic schools to provide to local law enforcement authorities critical incident mapping data, rather than blueprints and maps, for all schools and school buildings. For school buildings located within a municipality where there is no municipal police department, the mapping data would be provided to an entity designated by the Superintendent of State Police. Any time there is a change to the mapping data, a board of education of a school district, board of trustees of a charter school or renaissance school project, or chief administrator of a nonpublic school would be required to provide revised data to law enforcement authorities or a designated entity. Mapping data provided pursuant to this bill would be required to be compatible with all platforms and applications used by local, State, and federal law enforcement authorities; provided in a printable format; and verified for accuracy through an annual walkthrough of school buildings and school grounds. Nothing in the bill would be construed to require local law enforcement authorities or designated entities to access critical incident mapping data using third party viewing software. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 4-0, with one abstention. NJPSA Supported this Legislation, however did request an amendment that the state would pay for any costs associated with the implementation of this bill.
Lyme Disease Instruction and Policies Concerning Removal and Storage of Ticks
S-2463 Requires school districts to provide instruction on prevention of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases and to develop policy concerning removal of ticks.
This bill requires a board of education to incorporate curriculum guidelines concerning Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases as part of the school district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The guidelines would emphasize disease prevention and include topics such as the biology of various tick species, tick habitats, a list of diseases transmitted by ticks, recommended attire and repellants to help protect an individual from ticks, how to perform tick checks, proper techniques for the removal of ticks, and symptoms an individual may experience after receiving a tick bite. A board of education would also be required to consult resources from a nationally-recognized organization with expertise in Lyme Disease or other tick-borne diseases in fulfilling the requirements of the bill. A board of education would further be required to develop a policy concerning the discovery and removal of ticks on students. This bill would require the Commissioner of Education to develop curriculum guidelines for both Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases. A board of education would also be required to incorporate the curriculum guidelines developed by the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health, in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12 as part of the school district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. A board of education would further be required to use resources from a nationally-recognized organization with expertise in Lyme Disease or other tick-borne diseases in fulfilling the requirements of the bill.
The bill also requires a board of education to develop a policy concerning the discovery and removal of ticks on students. Specifically, the policy will require the school physician or school nurse to remove the tick from the student in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health pursuant to the bill; properly store the tick for no more than seven days; label the tick with the date of removal and name of the student; and provide notice to the student’s parent or guardian by telephone, email, or letter to be delivered by the student on the day the tick was removed. The notice provided to parents and guardians under the bill would include the student’s name, the date the tick was removed, a statement that the school is holding the tick for up to seven days so that the parent or guardian may collect the tick and send it to be tested for Lyme Disease or other tick-borne diseases, and a list of facilities in the State that perform tick testing. The notice will further advise the parent or guardian to promptly seek medical treatment if the student presents symptoms such as rash, chills, fever, headache, tiredness, stiff neck, joint pain or swelling, or swollen lymph nodes within three to 30 days of removal.
The Department of Health will be required to publish on the department’s Internet website guidelines concerning the discovery and removal of ticks on students and a list of facilities in the State that perform tick testing. The department is also required to distribute the guidelines and the list to school districts in consultation with the Department of Education. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 4-1. NJPSA testified, expressing concerns with the way the bill is currently drafted.
DOE Recommended Dates for Spring Break
S-2673 Requires Commissioner of Education to recommend dates for spring break in school districts. This bill requires the Commissioner of Education to annually recommend the dates on which a school district would be permitted to close its schools for a spring break. In order to assist school districts in the development of their school calendars, the commissioner is required to inform the school districts of the dates for spring break no later than June 30th of the prior school year. The bill would take effect in the 2023-2024 school year, but the commissioner would recommend the dates for spring breaks for that school year no later than June 30, 2023, and no later than June 30 every year thereafter. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA is Neutral on this legislation.
Remote Sessions for Student Psychological Services
S-2692 Requires school districts that offer student psychological services to offer remote sessions.
This bill requires school districts, charter schools, and renaissance school projects that employ a school psychologist and offer in-person school psychology services to students in grades kindergarten through 12 to allow students to attend counseling sessions or meetings of any kind through virtual or remote means.
NJPSA successfully obtained an amendment to the bill that a student will not be eligible to participate in remote psychology sessions if the school psychologist determines that in-person counseling is in the best interest of the student. Also under the bill, a student will not be required to attend a school counseling session or meeting with a school psychologist remotely, and will be permitted to continue to attend sessions in-person.
As used in the bill, a “school psychologist” means a person who holds a New Jersey standard educational services certificate with a school psychologist endorsement. School psychologists assist educators in implementing safe, healthy classroom and school environments by providing students with a wide range of emotional and academic services. This bill ensures that students who are unable to attend in-person sessions, for whatever reason, will continue to have access to their school psychologist by offering virtual or remote counseling sessions.
The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA supports this legislation as amended.
Threat Assessment Teams at Every School District
S-2765 Requires school districts to develop threat assessment teams at each school district. This committee substitute requires the board of education of each school district and the board of trustees of a charter school or renaissance school project to develop and adopt a policy for the establishment of a threat assessment team at each school. The purpose of a threat assessment team is to provide school teachers, administrators, and other staff with assistance in identifying students of concern, assessing those students’ risk for engaging in violence or other harmful activities, and delivering intervention strategies to manage the risk of harm for students who pose a potential safety risk, to prevent targeted violence in the school, and ensure a safe and secure school environment that enhances the learning experience for all members of the school community. A threat assessment team would be required to include, to the extent possible: a school psychologist, school counselor, school social worker, or other school employee with expertise in student counseling; a teaching staff member; a school principal or other senior school administrator; a safe schools resource officer or school employee who serves as a school liaison to law enforcement; and the school safety specialist. Additional school employees may serve as regular members of the threat assessment team or may be consulted during the threat assessment process, as determined to be appropriate by the team. Nothing in the bill would affect the provisions of any collective bargaining agreement or individual contract of employment in effect on this act’s effective date.
Under the bill, any policy developed by a school district or charter school or renaissance school project is required to include: guidance for students, teachers, and all school staff regarding the recognition of threatening or aberrant behavior in a student that may represent a threat to the school community; the designation of members of the school community to whom threatening behavior is to be reported; the development and implementation of policies concerning the assessment and intervention of students whose behavior poses a threat to the safety of the school community, and appropriate actions to be taken, including available social, developmental, and law enforcement resources, for students whose behavior is identified as posing a threat to the safety of the school community; coordination and consultation with the designated school safety specialist; and a policy that the threat assessment team will not disclose or disseminate any information obtained during their assessment beyond the purpose for which the information was provided to the threat assessment team, except that the threat assessment team is authorized to disclose the information to applicable agencies to pursue appropriate action for any student whose behavior is identified as posing a threat to the safety of the school community.
The bill requires the threat assessment team, when assessing a student whose behavior may pose a threat to the school community, in the case of a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, to consult with the student’s IEP team or 504 team to determine whether the aberrant behavior is a threat to school safety. The bill also requires the threat assessment team members to undergo training consistent with guidelines developed by the department, but which would include training on adverse childhood experiences, childhood trauma, cultural competency, and implicit bias.
The Department of Education, in consultation with State law enforcement agencies and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, would be required to develop guidelines for school districts, charter schools, and renaissance school projects regarding the establishment and training of threat assessment teams. The Department of Education would provide training through the New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy established under current law. The school safety specialist would provide training to school staff consistent with the training and guidelines provided by the department. The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this bill by a vote of 5-0-0. NJPSA supports this legislation as amended.
Bills that Passed Both Houses and Have Been Sent to the Governor
A-1282/S-759, Electric School Bus Program
A three year, $45 million grant program is established within the NJDEP to determine the operational reliability of electric school buses for potential use and cost effectiveness for the future.
A-3694/S-1800, Purple Star Schools
This bill establishes a Purple Star Schools Program within the NJDOE to recognize schools emphasizing the importance of assisting students in military families including the social and emotional needs of these students.
A-280/S-525, Pre-Apprenticeship Programs
This bill expands current programs under the Youth Transitions to Work Partnership act to assist young people in entering apprenticeship programs.
A-3668/A-1929, Military Impact Aid
This legislation makes a supplemental appropriation of $1,135,749 to the FY 2022 budget to provide state military impact aid to certain districts as set forth in the bill (Rockaway Township and Tinton Falls).
If you have questions about these, or any other legislative matters, please contact Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley firstname.lastname@example.org or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon at email@example.com at any time. Thank you for your continued support and advocacy, and for all that you do.