Gov. Murphy on Jan. 31 signed into law legislation intended to enhance school bus safety. Two other new laws will require schools to provide instruction on sexual consent and LGBT issues. The governor also conditionally vetoed a measure concerning school district nepotism polices. On Feb. 4, Murphy  approved an increase in the state minimum wage that puts workers on a path to $15 per hour over the next several years.

The following measures were signed into law:

Transportation Supervisor CertificationA-2436/S-2755 (P.L.2019, c.17) would require school district transportation supervisors to complete the School Transportation Supervisors Certification Program offered by Rutgers University or an alternate certification program designated by the commissioner of education. The program will include courses focused on the statutes and regulations that govern school transportation operations.  The new law takes effect immediately. Beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, any transportation supervisor currently employed or hired after the bill’s effective date who has less than eleven years of experience will have to complete the certification program within four years.  Those with more than eleven years of experience are exempt from the certification requirement.

School Bus Safety StudyA-4224/S-2754 (P.L.2019, c.24) would direct the commissioner of education to study school bus accidents and examine ways to improve school bus safety. The impact of various safety technologies that could be installed in school buses, such as speed restrictors, automatic braking, and electronic stability control would be assessed. The qualifications to serve as a school bus driver will also be studied. The analysis would include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety, the oversight of school bus operations, and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts. The study would be performed in consultation with the New Jersey State Police, the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC), and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  The law takes effect on Aug. 1.

Suspending School Bus Endorsements S-2914/A-4447 (P.L.2019, c.9) would require the chief administrator of the NJMVC to suspend the school bus (“S”) endorsement on a person’s driver’s license for 90 days if the person is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points while operating a commercial or non-commercial motor vehicle.  Prior to reinstating the school bus endorsement suspended under the provisions of the bill, the person would be required to complete a defensive driving course.  The law goes into effect on Aug. 1.

Sexual Consent InstructionA-2190/S-3108 (P.L.2019, c.16) would require a school district to incorporate instruction in grades six through 12 on the law and meaning of consent for physical contact and sexual activity as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in comprehensive health and physical education. The instruction is to be designed to increase discussion and awareness that consent is required before physical contact or sexual activity, and it also increases awareness of the social, emotional, and relational impact surrounding sexuality, the right to say no to unwanted physical contact or sexual activity, and the virtues of respecting the right of others to say no. The law goes into effect for the 2019-2020 school year.

LGBT InstructionS-1569/A-1335 (P.L.2019, c.6) requires each board of education to provide instruction on the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in an appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high school students as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. It is modeled on a law adopted in California, the “Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education (FAIR) Act.”  The law takes effect at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

The NJSBA supported each of the five measures described above throughout the legislative process.

Minimum Wage Hike Now Law As approved by the governor on Monday, A-15/S-15 would increase, over time, the state minimum wage.  The increase will be phased in gradually over a period of several years until reaching $15 per hour for most workers by 2024.  The minimum wage will also now apply to public school districts, which up until now have been exempt from the state minimum wage law, though they must adhere to the federal minimum wage.  The first increase, from $8.85 to $10 per hour, goes into effect on July 1 of this year, and then increases to $11 on Jan. 1, 2020.  It will then increase by one dollar annually until reaching $15, after which the rate will be annually adjusted for inflation.  Employees of small employers and seasonal workers will be subject to a more gradual phase-in, and would reach $15 by 2028.

The NJSBA, along with other organizations representing local government, opposed the legislation.  As school districts and other local governing bodies must adhere to a hard 2 percent property tax cap, the Association argued that the increased expenditures that will result from this wage hike will place stress on other areas of district budgets and could lead to cuts in programs, services and staff.

Nepotism Bill Conditionally VetoedA-557 requires the adoption of nepotism policies by school districts and charter schools. This bill would put into statute many of the nepotism regulations currently governing school districts and charter schools.  The bill also makes the positions of in-house school attorney and director of personnel subject to the nepotism policy. Because this bill would require boards to update their nepotism policies to conform to the language in the bill, NJSBA successfully lobbied to have the bill amended so that boards have 60 days from the date the bill is signed into law to adopt their policies.  The governor conditionally vetoed the bill recommending to the Legislature that it make technical amendments and include a provision that a district administrator including a director of personnel, or a school board attorney who has an immediate family member who is a member of the same statewide union in another district may serve as a technical resource to the negotiating team and may provide technical information necessary to the collective bargaining process when no one else in the district can provide such information.

Voting Sessions Held in Both Houses

On Jan. 31, both the Senate and General Assembly held voting sessions.  The following measures have now passed both houses and were sent to the governor’s desk:

School Panic Alarms The Senate voted to accept the governor’s recommendations on legislation, A-764, concerning the installation of school security panic alarms.  The Assembly concurred with the governor’s conditional veto in December, so the bill now returns to his desk for his signature.

As originally approved by the Legislature in June 2018, the bill required that all public schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency, such as a non-fire evacuation, lockdown or active shooter situation. The panic alarm, which is to be inaudible within the school building, must be directly linked to law enforcement authorities and immediately transmit a signal or message to the authorities upon activation. A school district may equip its buildings with an emergency mechanism that is an alternative to a panic alarm if the mechanism is approved by the NJDOE. The bill directs the state to reimburse school districts for the full cost of the panic alarms or alternative mechanisms, including school districts that installed a panic alarm or alternative system prior to the bill’s effective date.

The version of the bill the Legislature sent to the governor required the state, through the Schools Development Authority, to cover the costs of the mandated security upgrades. In his veto message last August, the governor noted that funds are not currently available at the SDA. However, since the then-pending “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act” would include revenue for school security upgrades, he recommended this legislation be linked to that revenue source. In November, the voters approved the bond act and authorized the state to borrow $500 million for various types of capital projects in New Jersey’s school districts.  A portion of those funds will be dedicated to school security project grants. The governor’s veto message indicated that these funds would be used to purchase and install the panic alarms mandated by this legislation.

The governor also noted concerns with the varying costs and configurations of alarm systems. Therefore, in order to maximize efficiency and economies of scale, he recommended the SDA be granted authority to oversee purchasing and installation of these systems. Lastly, the governor recommended extending the bill’s effective date in order to accommodate the revised source of funding to allow schools sufficient time to purchase and install the alarms. Once signed into law, the measure will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2019.

Entitled “Alyssa’s Law,” the legislation is named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old student and former resident of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, who was killed on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

NJSBA supported the measure on the condition that funds be made available to offset school districts costs.

Class III Officer RevisionsA-1400/S-3245 makes various changes to the law governing Class III Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs).  The original Class III law was enacted in 2016 and established an additional category of SLEOs who provide security in schools and county colleges. NJSBA supports this measure as it aims to increase the pool of applicants who may serve as Class III officers, while maintaining the requirement that such officers complete a School Resource Officer training program. Specifically, this legislation makes the following changes to the law:

  1. Authorizes law enforcement officers who served in any law enforcement position eligible for participation in the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, or who served as a law enforcement officer for a federal or bi-state law enforcement agency, to be appointed as a Class III SLEO. The law currently limits eligibility to an individual that served as a full-time officer in any municipality or county of this state, or as a member of the State Police
  2. Removes the requirement that the officer be retired from their law enforcement position within three years of appointment as a Class III special officer.
  3. Establishes that Class III SLEOs may not be assigned to an extracurricular or after-school function at a school or college unless that assignment has first been made available to full-time members employed by the municipality, school, or county college.
  4. Includes county vocational schools in the definition of a “county college” to clarify that Class III SLEOs are authorized to serve in county vocational schools.

Budget Address DelayedA-4841/S-3292 delays, by one week, the date by which the governor’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget message is to be transmitted to the Legislature. Current law provides that the budget message is to be delivered on or before the fourth Tuesday in February. The governor is expected to sign the legislation, which will move his budget address to Tuesday, March 5.  School districts will receive their Fiscal Year 2020 state figures within 48 hours of that date, pursuant to existing law.

Reporting Bus Driver MisconductS-1773/A-4031 would require all school buses to display a phone number, website address, or other identifying information that allows the public to report a bus driver’s misconduct while operating the school bus. Such reports would be made to the board of education or nonpublic school for which the school bus provides transportation. The bill would further require the commissioner of education to promulgate regulations that establish: a) the appropriate official to address and respond to a complaint of driver misconduct; b) the appropriate actions which a school may take to respond to a complaint of driver misconduct; c) the time period during which a board of education may act to respond to a complaint. NJSBA supports the bill.

Sexual Misconduct Bills Pass Legislature, Head to Governor

The Assembly gave final legislative approval to a package of bills designed to combat sexual misconduct and abuse in public schools.  The bills now head to the governor’s desk. The NJSBA supports each of the following measures:

Tenure Arbitrator TrainingA-4406/S-2712 requires arbitrators who hear tenure charge matters pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act to receive training on conduct unbecoming a school employee, including issues related to allegations of sexual assault and child abuse.  The purpose of the training would be to assist arbitrators in determining matters in which conduct unbecoming is the basis of the tenure charges made against an employee.  The program would be developed in consultation with various stakeholders in the school law and education communities, including the NJSBA.

Revoking Teaching CertificatesA-4408/S-2714 provides that if a board of education determines a teaching staff member has failed to report an allegation of child abuse in accordance with state law or regulations, the board of education must submit a report to the State Board of Examiners that outlines its finding. The State Board of Examiners will review the certification of the teaching staff member to determine if the failure to report warrants the revocation or suspension of his or her certificate.

Enhanced Penalties for Failing to ReportS-641/A-850 upgrades the penalty for failing to report an act of sexual abuse against a child to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Under current law, failure to report an act of child abuse (including sexual abuse) constitutes a disorderly persons offense, which carries a term of imprisonment for up to 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Under this bill, failure to report an act of sexual abuse would be deemed a fourth degree crime, which carries a penalty of up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Retaining Surveillance FootageS-2715/A-4199 requires that the state’s Attorney General, in consultation with the commissioner of education, develop a protocol establishing policies regarding the retention of video footage from school surveillance systems. The protocol would address matters such as the amount of time that the video footage may be retained; measures to be taken to limit access to the footage; and compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Task Force on Child Sexual AbuseA-4403/S-2707 establishes a task force within the NJDOE to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in this state, including recommendations for school policies and training that address the sexual abuse of children. NJSBA would have a representative on the task force.

Criminalizing Sex with Adult StudentsA-4404/A-1909/S-2709 provides that certain persons who commit an act of sexual penetration or contact with students who are at least 18 but less than 22 years old are guilty of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact. Current law already makes it illegal for an individual to engage in such activity with anyone under the age of 18 over whom the individual has supervisory or disciplinary authority.  Under this bill, a person would be guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who is 18 years old or older and less than 22 years old if: (a) the victim is a student in a school where the actor is a teaching staff member, substitute teacher, school bus driver, other school employee, contracted service provider, or volunteer; and (b) the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim. Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, or a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

Senate Voting Session

The following bills passed the Senate and now head to the General Assembly:

Deaf Student’s Bill of RightsS-2044 creates a “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights Act” recognizing that children who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind, who use one or more modes of communication have the same rights and potential as other children. NJSBA sought and received amendments to the bill that would clarify students are entitled to these rights under the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act and other laws.  Additionally, another NJSBA-backed amendment would make the bill effective 30 days from enactment to allow districts to make whatever adjustments to programs may be needed to comply with the bill’s provisions. NJSBA supports the bill as amended.

Deaf Education Working GroupS-2045 establishes in the NJDOE a working group on deaf education for the purpose of making recommendations on issues related to the early linguistic development of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The working group will consist of 15 members appointed by the commissioner of education. The bill also directs the department to, after consideration of the recommendations provided by the working group, select one or more early intervention assessments to be used by educators to assess the language and literacy development of deaf and hard of hearing children.  The bill directs the department to disseminate the selected assessments to school districts, and provide materials and training on their use. NJSBA supported the bill.

Campaign Funds & Child CareS-2943 explicitly includes within the definition of “campaign expenses” payment for child care expenses incurred by a candidate after the effective date of the bill that were incurred as the direct result of campaign activity. The bill grants authority to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to determine when child care expenses are incurred as the direct result of campaign activity. The bill now goes to the full Senate for approval.

Apprenticeship Pilot ProgramS-3065 directs the commissioner of education to establish a three-year youth apprenticeship pilot program to provide high school and college students between the ages of 16 and 21 an opportunity to develop valuable work skills while continuing their traditional education program. Under the bill, a school district or institution of higher education that wants to participate in the program must submit a proposal to the commissioner which outlines the district’s or institution’s plan to offer intensive career counseling and a customized learning experience to participating students. The commissioner will select two districts in each of the southern, central, and northern regions of the state and will select, in collaboration with the Secretary of Higher Education, four institutions of higher education to participate in the program. The commissioner of education is directed to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature on the implementation of the pilot program and his recommendation on the feasibility of implementing the program on a statewide basis. NJSBA supports the measure.

Promoting Backpack SafetySR-67 urges school administrators, teachers, parents, and students to be better educated about potential health impacts of heavy backpacks and take proactive measures to avoid injury. Elementary and secondary school students often carry textbooks, binders, calculators, personal computers, lunches, a change of clothing, sports equipment, and other items for school, all of which cause backpacks to weigh as much as 25 percent of the child’s body weight. These overloaded backpacks are causing an increasing problem of back pain and spinal strain for students. In order to promote backpack safety and lessen back and shoulder injuries, schools should consider measures such as switching to electronic textbooks; encouraging that the heaviest textbooks be left at school and handouts or workbooks be used for homework assignments; encouraging the use of ergonomic backpacks; and encouraging the use of wide, padded adjustable straps to fit a child’s body. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Voting Session

The full General Assembly passed the following measures, which now head to the Senate for further consideration:

Student Self-Administration of MedicationA-4799 requires a district or nonpublic school to permit the self-administration by a pupil of hydrocortisone sodium succinate, a medication designed to treat adrenal insufficiency.  Adrenal insufficiency is a disorder in which the adrenal glands fail to produce sufficient amounts of steroid hormones, such as the stress hormone cortisol.  Inadequate levels of adrenal hormones can result in an adrenal crisis, which may be life threatening without proper immediate treatment.  The existing statutory provisions governing self-administration of medication for asthma or a life-threatening illness or allergic reaction would apply to the self-administration of adrenal insufficiency medication.  The bill also requires that school districts establish a policy for the emergency administration of such medication.  The policy would be modeled on the policy currently required for the emergency administration of epinephrine to pupils for anaphylaxis.  NJSBA supports the measure.

Security Training for SubsA-4151 requires school security training for persons employed by public and nonpublic schools in a substitute capacity and for employees and volunteers of youth programs operated in school facilities. NJSBA supports the bill, and successfully obtained amendments intended to make implementation more practical while ensuring that individuals who have oversight of a classroom or district-approved youth program are provided with important information on how to respond to a security emergency. NJSBA supports the measure.