The Assembly Education Committee met virtually on Wednesday, March 17th, and moved a number of significant pieces of legislation. NJPSA was there to provide testimony and make recommendations.
A somewhat controversial bill concerning the speech rights of student journalists at public schools A-169/S-108 was advanced by the committee. NJPSA Director of Government Relations Debra Bradley cautioned the committee that changing the current legal standard that has been set by the United States Supreme Court ignores the need to balance individual student’s right to self expression with the welfare of all students, particularly in school-sponsored media where the school and district are liable for the messaging. East Brunswick High School Principal and NJPSA Recording Secretary Dr. Mike Vinella provided an impassioned attestation that, while our association’s membership supports and encourages student expression and engagement in our schools as part of our educational mission, removing the stop-gap measure of administrative “editorial review” could hinder his ability to keep every student safe and ultimately negatively affect school climate. East Brunswick Media Advisor Ryan Hynes joined Vinella with his unique perspective as the individual teaching students professional journalism skills of the need for staff and administrative interaction with students on the topics and content of school newspapers.
S-854 /A-3394 requires the provision of civics instruction to middle school pupils in public schools. Current law requires the study in civics, geography, and the history of New Jersey to be integrated throughout the grade levels according to the provisions of the New Jersey Learning Standards in Social Studies that were recently updated and adopted by the NJ State Board of Education in June 2020. Additionally high school graduation requirements in US history include aspects of civics as do other courses across the curriculum. This bill however would create a separate course requirement specifically required at the middle school level. Under the bill, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, each board of education is required to provide a course of study about the values and principles underlying the American system of constitutional democracy, the function and limitations of government, and the role of a citizen in a democratic society. The course is to be taken by all students in an appropriate middle school grade. NJPSA supports the education of New Jersey’s students in civics, but did submit a request to allow for additional implementation time, given the challenges of the pandemic.
NJPSA was pleased to offer our support for the following bills that were also advanced by the Committee:
- A-5374 requires the New Jersey Department of Education to submit to the United States Department of Education a formal request seeking a waiver of the student academic assessments required under ESEA. NJPSA offered testimony in support of this bill, applauding the sponsors for their leadership on this issue and restating the reasons we believe a waiver is appropriate.
- A bill establishes a five-year Community Schools Pilot Program in the Department of Education. A-1055 recognizes the positive impact that partnerships between public schools, nonprofit organizations, and local governments can have to help provide an integrated focus on academics, health, and social services, youth and community development, expanded learning time and opportunities, actively engage families, and foster collaborative practices based on a community’s identified need.
- S-2832/A-5295 seeks to address the substitute shortage by allowing a candidate for a substitute teacher credential who is enrolled in a regionally accredited institution of higher education and applying between the effective date of the bill and June 30, 2023, to have a minimum of 30 semester-hour credits completed at the institution at the time of applying for the substitute credential. The candidate would also be required to be at least 20 years of age. It is important to note that nothing in the bill would be construed to restrict school districts from establishing additional criteria for the employment of substitute teachers.
Finally, the Assembly Education Committee advanced A-4789, a bill that would establish the Safe and Equitable Remote Learning Pilot Program in the Department of Education to support the remote learning safe havens by certain eligible districts, including the Camden City School District, the Newark City School District, the Passaic City School District, the Paterson City School District, and the Trenton City School District.
For more information or if you have questions about any of the bills that moved this week, please contact your NJPSA Government Relations team: Debra Bradley, Director @ firstname.lastname@example.org or Jennie Lamon, Assistant Director @ email@example.com at any time. If you would like to become more involved with the positions NJPSA develops on legislation, please consider joining NJPSA’s Legislative Committee. Our next meeting will be on Friday, March 26th. For more information, please contact Jennie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your advocacy and for all that you do!