The Senate Education Committee met on Monday, May 9th. This is the first time the Legislature has convened for a non-budget related committee meeting since early March. The lengthy and contentious Senate Education meeting spanned several hours of debate on a number of bills on the agenda, but the majority of the controversy was focused on Senate Education Committee Chairman Vin Gopal’s “Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act”. Senator Gopal introduced this measure in response to the recent media firestorm surrounding the new health and physical education standards, particularly those standards regarding sexual education, sexual development and gender expression. Opponents of the bill argued the standards go too far with topics that should be left up to families to discuss. The sponsor maintained that his bill aims to allay those very concerns, by mandating that school districts publish their sex ed curriculums online in the summer, ensuring parents can ask questions about the lessons,provide input, and exercise their right to opt their children out of these specific lessons.
Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act
S-2481 would establish several requirements related to the adoption of curricula implementing the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The bill would require:
- boards of education and boards of trustees of charter schools and renaissance school projects to offer an annual opportunity for parents and guardians to provide comments on any curriculum necessary to implement the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education proposed for the succeeding school year. A board may satisfy this requirement with either a public meeting of the board or of the appropriate committee of the board.
- boards of education would be required to pos, prior to the start of the new school year, t in a prominent location on the board’s official website, information regarding:
- the board-approved curriculum for any instruction necessary to implement the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education;
- how a parent or guardian may provide public comment on any curriculum developed to implement the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education; and
- the statutory right of the parent or guardian to decline their child’s participation in any portion of the health, family life education, or sex education curriculum and the procedure for exercising that right.
- Finally, the bill charges the NJDOE with providing boards of education with learning standards support materials that suggest a variety of activities and strategies that may assist in the development of local curricula aligned with the New Jersey Student Learning Standards pursuant to the bill. Nothing in the bill would be construed to require a board of education or board of trustees of a charter school or renaissance school project to use learning standards support materials provided by the Department of Education.
This bill tracks the long-standing practice in our schools of making our health and physical education curriculum, including the area of sex education, available to parents for their review and consideration. NJPSA understands that most districts already post this curriculum on their websites. Teachers, supervisors and school principals are available to discuss, take questions/comments from parents, and work with them to alleviate any issues with this curriculum. If the parent wishes to opt their child out of the sex ed portion of the course, districts follow the law in place (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-4.7) since 1979 and allow them to do so. This has been the practice in our schools for a long time. We hope that this bill will help to promote a calm and meaningful discussion of any curriculum issues at the local level where instruction comes to life for students and their families. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 3-1, with one Abstention. The bill is now on Second-Reading in the Senate. As of the time of this writing, the bill does not have an Assembly counterpart. Read NJPSA’s full statement on Senator Gopal’s bill here. NJPSA supports this legislation.
New Requirements for School Counselors
S-2323 would establish several requirements related to school counselor certification and employment. The bill defines the role of a school counselor as someone who recognizes and responds to the need for mental health services that promote social and emotional wellness and development for all students and is tasked with designing and delivering a comprehensive program for school counseling that promotes the achievement of students. The bill would require:
- school counselors to complete professional development in relevant areas, such as the promotion of mental health awareness and trauma-informed counseling;
- school counseling certification programs at institutions of higher education to incorporate the American School Counselor Association’s national model for comprehensive school counseling programs or state-approved model;
- the commissioner of education to appoint a state school counselor liaison to work with school districts to facilitate best practices and serve as a resource expert for school counselors; and
- each school counselor employed by a district to spend at least 80% of their staff time during normal school hours providing certain school counseling services including, but not limited to, specific services enumerated in the legislation.
NJPSA supports the goals of the legislation to promote the profession of school counselors in a variety of ways. We know that school counselors play an important role in our schools and with our students, particularly since the pandemic resulted in a significant growth in students’ educational, social, and emotional needs, in addition to their longstanding needs for academic planning and postsecondary counseling. We agree that a state level position within the NJDOE to serve as a liaison and resource to school counselors is an excellent idea. This School Counselor Liaison can foster and promote the profession including working with the NJ School Counselors Association to develop a strong approach to the professional development needs of this unique position which are too often lumped into the programming for teachers.
However, we do have a concern with Section 3 (b) of the bill which we have shared with the sponsor and the NJ School Counselors Association. Specifically, we oppose the section of the bill which mandates that at least 80% of a school counselor’s staff time during normal school hours shall be spent on a list of specified duties that would be outlined in state statute with an allowance that the list is not all inclusive. Read NJPSA’s full statement on this bill here.
The Senate Education Committee passed this bill by a vote of 4-1, with one Abstention. This bill heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJPSA continues to work with the Sponsor to revise this legislation.
Excused Absences for Student Civic Engagement
A student-generated bill, S-2304 permits excused absences for students who attend civic events beginning with the 2023-2024 school year. This bill would permit public school pupils in grades 6 through 12 one excused absence to attend a civic event each school year. School districts would also be permitted to provide additional excused absences for such purposes. Excused absences taken under this bill would not be reflected on student attendance records. Parents or guardians of pupils who wish to use an excused absence under this bill would be required to provide signed written notice at least five school days in advance of the intended excused absence and such other documentation as the school district deems necessary to prove that the pupil meets the requirements for an excused absence. The bill would require the commissioner of education to provide guidance to districts regarding excused absences for civic events, and the State Board of Education would adopt implementing regulations. The Senate Education Committee passed this bill favorably 5-0, and the bill is now on Second Reading in the Senate. The Assembly Education Committee previously voted favorably on this bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-1271, and that bill now awaits consideration by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. NJPSA obtained amendments to the initial version of this bill.
Learning Loss Reports
S-2268 requires the Commissioner of the NJDOE to prepare two reports regarding the impact of COVID-19 on schools and students. The first report would be due May 1, 2023, and would identify and quantify the impact of COVID-19 on student academic outcomes. The second report would summarize the continuation of school services during COVID-19 and would be due by Sept. 30, 2023. The bill would require school districts to submit various data to the NJDOE to inform these reports, including, but not limited to, the dates of pauses in academic instruction as a result of COVID-19; a description of the instructional format provided by the district; data on the amount of class time students spent in synchronous and asynchronous remote learning; the percentage of students and teachers with access to reliable Internet and technology and a description of the district’s efforts to ensure that access; and certain academic data, such as four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates, attendance rates and attendance policy. NJPSA understands and supports the need to look at educational data to make decisions about individual students, classrooms, schools and districts. We know that our members rely on data in their work to inform instruction, modify curricula and set educational goals. We understand the need to do the same for state policy decision-making. However, we do have a few concerns and recommendations with respect to this bill. NJPSA recommended amendatory language including language that any information already submitted to the NJDOE during the prior school year need not be resubmitted pursuant to this legislation. The sponsor did amend the bill for implementation in the 2023 school year and is considering other amendments.
The bill was passed by the Senate Education Committee by a unanimous vote of 5-0, and has been Second-Referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee where it awaits a hearing. NJPSA continues to work with the sponsor and monitor the legislation.
Emergency Bonding Authority for School Districts and Municipalities
S-1892 would create a streamlined process for school districts and certain municipalities to issue bonds to finance repairs to facilities and equipment damaged by natural disasters for which the state has declared a state of emergency. Specifically, Type II school districts without a board of school estimate may issue bonds without voter approval; in the case of Type I school districts and Type II school districts with a board of school estimate, such bonds may be issued by the board of education or the governing body of the municipality comprised within the district without the approval of the board of school estimate or the adoption of a municipal ordinance as applicable. The bill would authorize boards of education to approve the issuance of these bonds via adoption of a resolution, which must contain certain information about the project enumerated in the bill, in a public meeting upon an affirmative vote by two-thirds of its full membership. The Senate Education Committee passed this bill by a vote of 5-0. This bill is now on second reading. NJPSA was neutral on this legislation.
Alternative Pathway to Teaching Certification
S-1553 would establish the “alternative certificate of eligibility with advanced standing” and the “alternative certificate of eligibility.” A teacher candidate would be eligible for the alternative CEAS if the candidate meets all CEAS eligibility requirements except the requirement to pass the appropriate state test(s) of subject matter knowledge (Praxis II). A teacher candidate would be eligible for the alternative CE if the candidate meets all CE eligibility requirements except the basic skills requirement or the requirement to pass the Praxis II. Holders of the alternative CEAS or alternative CE would be eligible to receive their standard certification upon completion of four years of continuous employment using their alternative certificate, and provided that they complete all applicable requirements to earn their standard certificate. NJPSA supports the spirit of this bill, and thanks the Sponsor Senator James Beach for his support in trying to help address the staffing shortage crisis. Although we do not have evidence, nor have we heard antidoctically, that the pool of qualified candidates unable to pass the Praxis II is a very large population, we are supportive of exploring every option to ensure our school buildings are staffed with high quality teachers and staff. However, NJPSA testified in opposition to the requirement in the bill that the four years of employment must be “continuous”, as that would rule out otherwise qualified candidates who were RIF’d, or had an unexpected family or medical leave, etc. The Senate Education Committee advanced this bill by a vote of 5-0. NJPSA is working with the Sponsor and is seeking floor amendments on this bill.
Student Access to Feminine Hygiene Products
S-1221 requires school districts to ensure that students in each school serving any of the grades 6-12 (or any combination thereof) have direct access to feminine hygiene products (defined to mean “tampons and sanitary napkins for use in connection with the menstrual cycle”) in all of the school bathrooms, free of charge. The state would be required to pay the cost of providing these products. This bill would take effect in the first full school year following the date of enactment. This bill was passed by the Senate Education Committee by a slim margin of 3-2, with at least one affirmative vote reserving the right to change their vote on the floor pending clarification of whether this bill also includes men’s restrooms. The bill has Second-Referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. NJPSA supported this legislation.
As always, if you have questions about these, or any other bills, please do not hesitate to contact your NJPSA Government Relations Team at any time. Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley firstname.lastname@example.org or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon at email@example.com. Thank you for your continued support and advocacy, and for all that you do.