On Monday, Dec. 7, the Senate Education Committee convened to consider a busy agenda. The approved bills included one of the NJSBA’s pandemic-related advocacy agenda items that would delay the QSAC review process for districts in the current school year. The following provides a full rundown of the committee’s action from Monday:
NJQSAC Relief S-3187 postpones the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) review for certain school districts to help them respond to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the bill, as released by the committee, districts that are required to undergo an NJQSAC review in the current (2020-2021) school year, and which were designated as “high performing” in their most recent review, would automatically have this year’s review postponed until their next scheduled review in the 2023-2024 school year. Any districts that do not want to have the review postponed would have to make a formal request to the commissioner of education.
Any district scheduled for review this year that was not designated as high performing in its most recent review would be eligible for a one-year postponement. Districts would have to provide written notification to the commissioner of education that they are not able to complete the review due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These districts would then undergo a review during the 2021-2022 school year. If such a district receives the one-year postponement, then the district will undergo its next following comprehensive review three years after the school year in which its comprehensive review was originally scheduled to take place.
The bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-4975, has already passed through committee. It is expected that both bills will receive floor votes at both houses’ scheduled voting sessions on Dec. 17th and be sent to the governor.
The NJSBA testified in strong support of the bill. In May 2020, the NJSBA issued Searching for a New Normal: A Special Report on the Reopening of New Jersey’s Schools. In that report, the NJSBA recommended that districts be given the financial and regulatory flexibility they need by suspending or revising NJQSAC so that districts are not penalized for taking actions necessary to address the pandemic. That same month, the NJDOE provided limited relief to districts by suspending those indicators of NJQSAC that required in-person inspection or interaction.
In August 2020, with districts trying to meet the challenges of safely reopening their schools, the NJSBA issued a second report, Choosing the Best ‘Road Back’ for Our Children. In that report, the NJSBA renewed its call for further NJQSAC relief during the pandemic. S-3178 provides districts with that needed relief while continuing the important collaboration between local districts and the NJDOE to ensure that all children are provided with a thorough and efficient education during these unprecedented times.
A copy of NJSBA’s position statement on S-3178 can be accessed here.
Diversity and Inclusion Instruction A-4454/S-2781 requires school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of the implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards. Under the bill, instruction would:
- Highlight and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance;
- Examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole; and
- Encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, socioeconomic status, and religious beliefs.
Under the bill, the commissioner of education will provide school districts with sample learning activities and resources designed to promote diversity and inclusion. NJSBA supports the legislation.
A-4454 already passed the full Assembly. If approved by the full Senate, the bill will need to return to the Assembly to concur with Senate amendments before going to the governor.
School Discipline Task Force S-1018 establishes a 10-member task force to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding discipline policies and practices in New Jersey public schools, including any racial disparities in the implementation and effectiveness of the policies. The NJSBA supports the bill and would be one of several education organizations with a representative on the task force.
Reporting Discipline Data S-1020 requires the School Report Card to include a demographic breakdown of students who receive disciplinary actions. It also requires the commissioner of education to establish a statewide database concerning various disciplinary actions, such as in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and arrests.
School Discipline Guidelines S-1154 directs the New Jersey Department of Education to develop school discipline guidelines to assist local school districts and charter schools in enhancing school climate and improving school discipline policies and practices, including ensuring that discipline practices are applied in an equitable and nondiscriminatory manner.
Sunscreen Policies S-1501 requires school districts to adopt a policy concerning a student’s use of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, such as hats and sunglasses, while outdoors at school and school-sponsored functions. The policy will not require a student to provide documentation from a physician or other licensed health care professional in order to use sunscreen or sun-protective clothing while outdoors at school or a school-sponsored function. If enacted, the bill will take effect in the first full school year following the bill’s enactment.
Anti-Bullying Law Revisions S-1790 makes various changes to the state’s anti-bullying law and improves harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) reporting and investigation by:
- Placing a renewed emphasis on a supportive school climate and culture as a means to combat HIB.
- Creating the funded position of School Climate State Coordinator in the NJDOE to serve as a “one stop shop” for HIB information and resources for parents, students, and school staff. The office will also coordinate and collaborate with law enforcement and other agencies on HIB efforts.
- Preserving the board’s role in HIB oversight and parental appeals.
- Requiring funding for the “Bullying Prevention Fund.” The fund shall be used to offer grants to school districts to provide training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention and on the effective creation of positive school climates, and to help fund related personnel expenses.
NJSBA supports the bill as amended and released by the committee. A copy of joint letter submitted by the NJSBA along with several other education organizations can be found here.
Renaming “Security Aid” as “Health Safety Aid” S-3013 renames “security aid” as “health and safety aid” to reflect that secure schools provide for students’ mental health and wellbeing. Specifically, the bill changes all references of security aid to health and safety aid in the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” and related laws to reflect that a secure school also includes students’ mental health. NJSBA supports the bill.
Cannabis Revenue to Support Extended Learning Time S-3213 establishes the “New Jersey Community Learning Program” in the Department of Education to support the provision of comprehensive extended learning time programs in certain areas most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis (“impact zones”). The costs of the program would be supported by a portion of the annual state revenues collected from the retail sale of recreational cannabis products.
Assessing COVID-Related Learning Loss S-3214 requires the commissioner of education to prepare two reports on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on public schooling. The first report will be a learning loss report that identifies and quantifies the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student academic outcomes. The second report will be a report on the continuation of school services during the same period.
The NJSBA supports the intent of S-3214, which sets a framework for the assessment of student learning during the pandemic. The required study and report would be an important step toward developing a funded strategic plan to help address remediation. However, the NJSBA also recognizes the strain that the current emergency has placed on staff and resources. Therefore, the Association cautioned against the imposition of any additional responsibilities on staff that would take away from districts’ top priority – advancing student learning and achievement while protecting the health and safety of both students and staff. A copy of NJSBA’s testimony on the legislation can be found here.
School Audit Delay Bill Now Law
On Friday, Dec. 4, Gov. Murphy signed legislation that would provide school districts with additional time to file their required annual audits with the commissioner of education. The measure, S-3043/A-4603, provides a two-month extension to file such audits. According to one of the bill’s sponsors, this extension is necessary as a result of the COVID–19 pandemic. School districts have limited the number of persons who may enter school buildings due to COVID-19, which creates a difficulty since the annual audit is conducted on-site at the district.
Under current law, the board of education of every school district must have an annual audit of the district’s accounts and financial transactions completed not later than five months after the end of the school year. A report of the annual audit is filed by the accountant with the board of education, and within five days thereafter, with the commissioner of education.
As approved by the governor, S-3043/A-4603 extends the deadline for the completion of the annual audit of the 2019-2020 school fiscal year until Jan. 31, 2021 and its submission to the commissioner until Feb. 5, 2021. The bill also provides that, notwithstanding the extended deadline for submission of a school district’s annual audit report, a school district is required to submit the audit summary for the 2019-2020 school year to the New Jersey Department of Education by Jan. 4, 2021.