Update from the NJ Statehouse: Week of December 13, 2021

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-Jennie Lamon, NJPSA Assistant Director of Government Relations

It was another predictably busy week in Trenton as the 2020/2021 Legislative Session is nearing an end. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to release a bill that would rescind the requirement that New Jersey school district employees have to live in the state, as well as one that would extend the statute of limitations for requesting due process hearings for special education compensatory services.  The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee released bills creating a School Bus Safety Ombudsman and requiring school distinct websites to be accessible to persons with disabilities.  Following is a summary of all of the education-related measures that had action under the golden dome this week. 


Assembly Judiciary Committee

A Bill Addressing School Security Drills

A-5727 Ensures student well-being during school security drills. NJPSA was able to secure important amendments on this legislation. The amendments delete the provision requiring that a school security drill may be conducted only after advance written notice has been provided to staff and the parents and guardians of enrolled students in the district, deletes the provision that a school security drill not include the presence of emergency personnel not typically present at the school during school hours; require a school district to provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following the completion of a school security drill, (not before the drill); remove the requirement that a school district review and update its security drill procedures every three years, and instead provide that the district must review and update the procedures using a process that coincides with the review of the school safety and security plan developed pursuant to N.J.A.C.6A:16-5.1.  Amendments also remove the requirement that a school district annually track data on the efficacy and the effects of the school security drills.  Instead, a school district would be required to annually track data on such measures and information as are required by the Commissioner of Education, and report the data to the commissioner. This bill now goes to the General Assembly for a vote. 


Senate Education Committee

A Bill Establishing a Pilot Program for Remote Learning Safe Havens for Certain Districts

A-4789/S-3123 Establishes Safe and Equitable Remote Learning Pilot Program in DOE to support provision of remote learning safe havens by certain school districts  The bill provides that when an eligible district implements a program of virtual or remote instruction or a program of hybrid instruction, the district may establish one or more remote learning safe havens.  Each remote learning safe haven would be used for the delivery of remote instruction to enrolled students in accordance with applicable social distancing and other health and safety guidelines.  Under the bill, the district would be required to provide broadband Internet service to the facility..Eligible districts include: 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. NJPSA Supported this legislation. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.  It has already been passed by the lower house by a vote of (72-3). 


A Bill Establishing a Commission on Asian Heritage in the NJ Department of Education

S-3764 This bill establishes the Commission on Asian Heritage within the Department of Education.  The purpose of the commission is to survey, design, encourage, and promote the implementation of Asian cultural and educational programs in this State.  The commission will consist of 21 members, including the Commissioner of Education and the chair of the executive board of the Presidents’ Council, ex officio, or their designees, and 19 public members. The bill is currently awaiting votes by both the full Senate and full General Assembly. NJPSA Supported this legislation.


A Bill Eliminating the Residency Requirement for Public School Employees

S-4203 This bill would eliminate the requirement that employees of a school district have their principal residence in this State.  This requirement was established by law in 2011 and currently applies to all public officers and employees in the State, with certain limited exceptions.  This bill retains the residency requirement for all other public officers and employees, but eliminates it for employees of a school district.  The bill also expressly provides that no provision of the law that establishes the residency requirement will be construed as requiring an employee of, or a person hired by, a school district, charter school, or renaissance school project to comply with the residency requirement. This Act would take effect immediately. NJPSA Director of Government Relations Debra Bradley testified in strong support of this legislation. Read NJPSA’s testimony.


A Bill Requiring Annually Reporting of Use of Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds

S-4206 Requires the Department of Education to annually report use of federal COVID-19 relief funds.  Under this bill, the Department of Education shall, in addition to the submission of any report concerning federal stimulus dollars that is required pursuant to federal law or any other State law, submit an annual report by December 31 of each year to the Governor, and to the Legislature, concerning the amount of grant funds received by the department and distributed to school districts pursuant to the federal CARES, CRRSA and/or ARP Acts, or any other federal funding made available to states to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The NJDOE must report the purposes for which grant funds were used by recipient school districts. NJPSA Supported this legislation.


A Bill Concerning Tuition Rates for APSSDs

S-4222  This bill deletes a provision of current law under P.L.2021, c.109 which requires the Department of Education (DOE) to, for the 2021-2022 school year through the 2025-2026 school year, set the maximum tentative tuition rate of each approved private school for students with disabilities at the maximum tentative tuition rate set for the 2020-2021 school year if, during the 2021-2022 school year through the 2023-2024 school year, the school exceeds the total number of students at the approved facility in the 2020-2021 school year. NJPSA was neutral on this legislation.


A Bill Extending the Statute of Limitations for Filing Special Education Due Process Petitions 

S-4245 This bill extends the period of time a parent, guardian, or local educational agency has to request a due process hearing regarding the education of a child with disabilities during a COVID-19 school closure or during periods of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction. This bill would allow a parent, guardian, or local educational agency to file a request for a due process hearing regarding the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free and appropriate public education of a child with a disability during a COVID-19 school closure or a period of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction occurring between March 18, 2020 and September 1, 2021 at any time prior to September 1, 2023. Under the bill, a local educational agency is required, not later than December 31, 2022, or earlier if requested by a parent or guardian, to hold an IEP team meeting to discuss the need for compensatory education and services for every student with a disability who had an IEP at any time between March 18, 2020 and September 1, 2021. NJPSA worked with other education stakeholders and special education advocates on significant amendments to this bill. Read NJPSA’s position statement.


Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee


A Bill Requiring School District Websites to be Accessible to Persons with Disabilities

A-4856 This bill requires that no public school will make available to the enrolled students of the district or school or to the public an Internet website or web service unless the website or web service complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA or the most up-to-date version of the guidelines if approved by the Commissioner of Education, or any other applicable guidelines or requirements as may be designated or approved by the commissioner.  The WCAG guidelines provide standards through which digital content may be accessible for persons with disabilities.  In June 2018, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines were issued to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices. NJPSA was neutral on this bill. This bill now awaits a vote by the full Senate.  It has already been passed by the General Assembly by a unanimous vote. 


A Bill Creating the Position of School Bus Safety Ombudsman

S-3851/A-5814 This bill creates the School Bus Safety Ombudsman position in, but not of, the Department of Education to monitor and administer all school bus safety and oversight activities.  The School Bus Safety Ombudsman would be appointed by the Governor. The bill also requires the Ombudsman to submit an annual report to the Governor, the Legislature, and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission which includes a summary of the services provided, and enforcement actions taken, by the Ombudsman during the school year, and any specific recommendations the ombudsman deems appropriate and necessary concerning the oversight and management within the Ombudsman’s purview. NJPSA supported this bill. 

Next week, both the Senate and the Assembly have voting sessions on Monday, December 20th.  Both houses are expected to send several education-related measures to the Governor.  They will then take a short recess for the holidays, and return on January 3rd for Committee hearings.  Reorganization is on January 11th, at which time the new legislators will be sworn in, and the 2022-2023 Legislative Session will begin.  Your NJPSA Government Relations team will keep you updated every step of the way! In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact NJPSA Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley at dbradley@njpsa.org or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon at jlamon@njpsa.org.