With campaign and election season now in the past, the so-called “lame duck” portion of the 2016-2017 legislation session is underway. Several committees met over the past week and advanced a number of measures impacting New Jersey’s students and school districts.

Senate Education Committee (Thursday, Nov. 30)

Promoting “Smarter” LunchroomsS-2113/A-3444 also known as “The Smarter Lunchroom Act,” promotes healthy food choices in school cafeterias by encouraging school districts, public schools, and nonpublic schools to adopt the strategies of The Smarter Lunchroom Movement. The Smarter Lunchroom Movement was founded by researchers at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and offers simple, low- to no-cost evidence-based tools that improve child eating behaviors in school cafeterias. The bill requires the state education commissioner to make every effort to assist, guide, and support schools in planning, establishing, and implementing the strategies of The Smarter Lunchroom Movement.

The legislation, which has already passed the full General Assembly, now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

Child Abuse HotlineS-2728/S-3310/A-3655 requires a board of education to display information about the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ State Central Registry, a toll-free hotline for reporting child abuse, in each school of the district. The information must give instructions to call 911 for emergencies and must include directions for accessing the department’s website or social media platforms for more information on reporting abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Under the bill, the information is required to be in a format and language that is clear, simple, and understandable. The information must be on a poster and displayed at each school in at least one high-traffic, highly and clearly visible public area that is readily accessible to and widely used by students.

NJSBA supports the bill, which may be posted for a Senate floor vote. If passed by the full Senate, the bill will return to the Assembly, which passed a previous version of the bill, for final legislative approval.

Publicizing Summer Meal ProgramsS-3371/A-4906 requires each school district and nonpublic school in New Jersey to notify each student, and the student’s parent or guardian, of the availability and criteria of eligibility for the summer meals program and the locations in the local school district where the summer meals are available. Notification would be made by distributing flyers provided by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The bill directs the department to develop and distribute to each school district and nonpublic school in the state. Additionally, school districts and schools are permitted to provide electronic notice of the information through the usual means by which the school district or school communicates with parents and students electronically.

NJSBA supports the bill, which now goes before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. A-4906 passed the General Assembly this past June.

Online Applications for School Lunch and BreakfastS-3372/A-4908 would require the NJ Department of Agriculture, in consultation with NJDOE, to develop and make available to each school district and nonprofit nonpublic school participating in the National School Lunch Program or in a school breakfast program, an internet-based online school meal application for eligible students to participate in these programs. Schools participating in these programs would be encouraged to make the online school meal application available. A participating school district or nonprofit nonpublic school that implements the online school meal application would also be required to continue to make paper applications available.

NJSBA supports the bill. The legislation must now be approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before being posted for a floor vote. If approved by the full Senate, the bill will return to the Assembly to concur with Senate amendments.

Cooperative Sports Programs S-3447 requires the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to allow public high schools in the same school district to enter into a cooperative sports program for any sport at the varsity level if either of the schools demonstrates an inability to field a team at the varsity level due to: a decline in interest or participation in the sport at one of the schools that impacts the ability of that school to safely field a team; or budgetary constraints which force the elimination of certain sports programs at one of the schools. Under the current rules of the NJSIAA, schools are prohibited from entering into cooperative sports programs for basketball, baseball, softball and spring track, and in football if one of the schools is classified as a Group III school. This bill requires the NJSIAA to allow the schools to enter into cooperative sports programs regardless of the sport or the member schools’ Group classification.

The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation, which may be posted for a Senate floor vote.

HIB ImmunityS-3559/A-4457 extends immunity to certain private school officials who report incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB). Under this bill, board of directors members and employees of approved private schools for students with disabilities who promptly report an incident of HIB to the appropriate school official designated by the school’s policy or to any school administrator, and who make this report in compliance with the procedures in the school’s anti-bullying policy, will be immune from a cause of action for damages arising from any failure to remedy the reported incident. This provision will provide the same immunity that is currently given to members of a school board and school district employees under the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”

The legislation is now primed for a Senate floor vote. If passed, it heads to the governor’s desk.

Assembly Education Committee (Monday, Dec. 4)

Combatting Chronic AbsenteeismA-2352/S-447 requires the education commissioner to include the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension on School Report Cards data. The bill also requires that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. In developing the corrective action plan, the school must solicit input from parents and then present the plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

During earlier deliberations on the bill, the NJSBA expressed concerns over the definition of chronic absenteeism in the original version of the bill. As a result, the bill was amended to provide that the NJDOE will determine the definition of chronic absenteeism through regulation instead. NJSBA will continue to monitor the bill’s progress. The bill passed the full General Assembly earlier this year.

Promoting Dual Language ImmersionA-4318/S-2704 establishes a grant program for school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs. The bill directs the N.J. Commissioner of Education to establish a dual language immersion program. Under the program, the commissioner will provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. A school district or charter school may be eligible to receive funds if it uses an instructional model that provides at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in the other language. The program would have to begin in kindergarten or grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner. The bill establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund to finance the grant program, which would be credited with money appropriated by the Legislature, any gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund, and any other available revenue.

NJSBA supports the measure, which has already passed the full Assembly.

Fire Safety Initiative A-5074 directs the Division of Fire Safety in the Department of Community Affairs to conduct a survey of fire suppression systems in all public and nonpublic school buildings in the state and to provide those results to the Department of Education. According to the bill statement, many school buildings in the New Jersey were constructed decades ago and do not have adequate fire suppression systems installed, and many others have systems that are not fully operational. The state cannot properly address this serious problem without accurate information regarding the status of fire suppression systems in every school building. This bill would provide the appropriate agencies with the information necessary to take appropriate action in the future. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Water Safety Instruction A-5155/A-5159 directs the State Board of Education to review and incorporate within the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education instructional standards on water safety. The instructional standards will provide students with information on: the nature and danger of rip tides; the importance of learning about water conditions and beach safety practices, particularly for student populations that do not reside near beach communities; hand signs that may be used to indicate swimmer distress; and the sightline limitations of lifeguards and others monitoring swimmers from the beach. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Assisting ELL Students with Special NeedsA-5204 directs the commissioner of education to develop guidance for school districts regarding the identification of English language learners in grades kindergarten through 12 who may also be eligible for special education programs and services. The bill provides that the guidance will include, but not be limited to, information on the following: recognizing and addressing potential challenges in the process of identifying English language learners who may require classification as a special education student; the use of multiple methods and measures in assessing the eligibility of a student who is an English language learner for special education programs and services; and the importance of professional development for and collaboration among teachers in the identification process, including teachers of English language learner programs, special education teachers, and general classroom teachers. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

IDEA and Substance AbuseAJR-81/SJR-21 urges the president and the Congress of the United States to enact legislation amending the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA) to include “substance use disorder” as one of the disabilities that qualify a child as a “child with a disability” under the act. As a “child with a disability,” a student with substance use disorder will be eligible for special education programs and services under the act. NJSBA is monitoring the resolution, which has already passed the full General Assembly.

Celebrating Career and Technical EducationAR-113, an Assembly Resolution, designates the month of February as “Career and Technical Education Month” in New Jersey in order to recognize and promote the many benefits of career and technical education in this State. The resolution also encourages students, parents, and other citizens of the state to learn more about career and technical education, county vocational-technical school programs, and well-paying career pathways that can be launched with an industry credential or a technical degree. New Jersey employers are encouraged to become active partners with county vocational-technical schools to align curriculum with their workforce needs and provide meaningful work-based learning opportunities to students. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee (Monday, Dec. 4)

Securing Polling Places in SchoolsA-1889 provides that a school cannot be used as a polling place on a day that classes are in session, unless voting takes place in a room that is directly accessible from the outside and is secured by a door or other barrier from the rest of the building, or there is a uniformed law enforcement officer present and voters are not permitted to pass without supervision through the interior of the building when entering or leaving that room. The bill also clarifies that if a polling place is located in a public school on the day of an election, the board of education of the school district has the option of whether to hold classes on the day of the election. If the board determines to hold classes, the bill requires the board to establish and implement a written security plan, based on guidelines established by the Attorney General, to ensure that an appropriate level of security is maintained to protect students when the school is open and to maintain the proper functioning and integrity of the voting process during the election. The bill requires the school district to submit the security plan to the Attorney General, no later than 90 days prior to the election, for review and approval of the plan. Building security procedures and any information submitted to the Attorney General in regard to the security plan will not be accessible to the public under the provisions of the public records act or any other law. The bill provides that any expenses incurred by a school district in implementing its security plan will be reimbursed by the state upon application to the Attorney General.

NJSBA supports the measure.