On Thursday, Feb. 1, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-6) convened the first meeting of the Assembly Education Committee of the 2018-2019 legislative session. As chair of the committee, Assemblywoman Lampitt replaces former Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, who has been nominated by Governor Murphy to serve as Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance. In addition to the new chair, the education committee has added a number of other fresh faces. Below is the current make-up the committee (an * indicates that the member is new to the committee this session):

  • Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D-6) — Chair*
  • Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey (D-27) — Vice Chair
  • Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo (D-28)
  • Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17)*
  • Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-13)*
  • Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer (D-36)*
  • Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39)*
  • Assemblyman Edward H. Thomson (R-30)*
  • Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake (D-34)*
  • Assemblyman David W. Wolfe (R10)
  • Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D16)*

On Thursday, the committee voted to advance the following bills:

Child Abuse HotlineA-425 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.

Opioid Overdose PreventionA-542 would require boards of education to develop a policy for the emergency administration of opioid antidotes to students and staff members. The policy would require high schools, and would permit any other school, to maintain a supply of opioid antidotes and permit emergency administration of an opioid antidote by a school nurse or trained employee. The opioid antidotes must be accessible during regular school hours and during school-sponsored functions that take place in the school or on school grounds adjacent to the school building. A board of education may, at its discretion, make opioid antidotes accessible during school-sponsored functions that take place off school grounds. The bill’s requirements would also apply to charter and nonpublic schools.

The bill directs the New Jersey Department of Education, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Human Services and appropriate medical experts, to establish guidelines for school districts in developing their policies for the administration of opioid antidotes. The guidelines will require that each school nurse, and each employee designated by the board of education, receive training on standardized protocols for the administration of an opioid antidote to a student or staff member who experiences an opioid overdose.

The bill provides immunity from liability for school nurses and other employees of a board of education, and prescribers of opioid antidotes for a school, for good faith acts or omissions consistent with the bill’s provisions. The bill also stipulates that school districts may enter into shared services arrangements for the provision of opioid antidotes. NJSBA supports the bill.

Career Assistance for DropoutsA-1845 requires each school district that includes any of the grades 9-12 to provide to the local Workforce Investment Board a list of students enrolled in those grades who left school prior to graduation and did not indicate an intention to complete high school. The list is to be forwarded to the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) by Feb. 15 and July 15 of each school year. According to the bill statement, the provisions of A-1845 mirror a Dec. 6, 2000 directive sent from the New Jersey Department of Education to school districts. The directive was based on a 1988 Attorney General’s opinion that WIBs have a right to access this information. A-1845 would essentially codify this directive into law. The sharing of this information is intended to assist the WIBs in connecting out-of-school youth to training and employment opportunities. NJSBA supports the bill.

Combatting Chronic AbsenteeismA-2192 requires that, if 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. The bill requires that the plan include:

  • Identifying problems and barriers to school attendance;
  • Developing recommendations to address those problems and barriers;
  • Outlining communication strategies to educate parents on the importance of school attendance;
  • Establishing protocols on informing and engaging parents when a child begins to show a pattern of absences; and
  • Reviewing school policies to ensure that they support improved school attendance.

The bill requires that in developing the corrective action plan, the school must solicit input from parents through multiple means. The school must then present its corrective action plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan until the percentage of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

The bill also requires the commissioner of education to include on School Report Cards data on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and those who received a disciplinary suspension. The bill directs the commissioner to review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district annually, and report on the rates to the State Board of Education. The term “chronically absent” will be defined pursuant to rules and regulations promulgated by the commissioner of education. NJSBA supports the bill.

Computer Science EndorsementA-2193 directs the State Board of Education to authorize a computer science education endorsement to the instructional certificate. The endorsement would authorize the holder to teach computer science in all public schools, and would be required to teach computer science in grades 9-12 beginning at such time as the State Board determines that there are a sufficient number of teachers holding the computer science education endorsement to make the requirement feasible. The bill includes a grandfather provision that permits a teacher to be issued a computer science education endorsement upon application to the State Board of Examiners, if the person is teaching computer science within the three years prior to such time as the State Board determines to require a computer science education endorsement to teach computer science.

Senate Voting Session

The full Senate convened for its first voting session of the new legislative session on Thursday. Here are the education-related bills that the upper house passed and sent to the General Assembly:

Protecting Students from Sexual Abuse & MisconductS-414 seeks to end the practice of allowing school employees with a history of instances or allegations of sexual misconduct or child abuse to move from one job to another without their new employers having any knowledge of such history. The legislation requires school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools, and contracted service providers (“employers”) to review the employment history of prospective employees to ascertain allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct. It explicitly prohibits such employers from hiring a person serving in a position which involves regular contact with students unless the employer conducts a review of the employment history of the applicant by contacting former and current employers and requesting information regarding child abuse and sexual misconduct allegations.

When seeking employment in a school setting, applicants will be required to answer three questions regarding whether the applicant has ever:

  • Been the subject of any child abuse or sexual misconduct investigation by the employer, law enforcement, or any state agency (unless the allegations were false or the incident was not substantiated);
  • Been disciplined, discharged, non-renewed, asked to resign, etc. while allegations were pending/under investigation, or due to an adjudication/finding; or
  • Had a license/certification suspended while allegations pending/under investigation, or due an adjudication/finding.

A prospective employer would then be required to contact all of the applicant’s previous employers in order to ascertain whether the applicant’s answers to the questions above are accurate. If an applicant or previous employer provides an affirmative response to any of the questions, then the prospective employer would need to follow up with the previous employer and obtain additional information before making a hiring decision.

The bill also would prohibit confidential separation agreements between school districts and employees that would have the effect of suppressing any information related to investigations or findings of sexual misconduct or child abuse by an employee.

During committee deliberations, the NJSBA publicly supported S-414 as it seeks to protect the health and well-being of New Jersey’s school-age children. The NJSBA did offer several amendments to the legislation, most of which were accepted by the sponsors, that would enable school districts to implement the new requirements in an efficient and effective manner. The NJSBA will continue working with the sponsors and affected stakeholders on improvements to the bill as it progresses through the legislative process.

Electric School Buses S-721 authorizes the use of certain electric school buses and provides that the maximum overall width of an electric school bus operated in New Jersey is not to exceed 102 inches, excluding accessories. Current regulations restrict the width of all school buses to 96 inches. The increased permissible width set forth in the bill would apply to electric school buses exclusively. NJSBA supports the measure.

Instruction on College CostsS-762 provides that the State Board of Education will require that the high school graduation requirement on financial literacy include instruction on available state and federal tuition assistance programs, including grants, scholarships, and student loans. The bill also requires a school district to ensure that a high school student meets with a guidance counselor during either the second or third year of high school to discuss tuition assistance programs that may be available to the student to finance postsecondary educational opportunities. The guidance counselor must also discuss options available to the student for dual enrollment in high school and an institution of higher education that will enable the student to earn college credit while still in high school. NJSBA supports the bill.

Dual Enrollment Study CommissionS-870 establishes a “Dual Enrollment Study Commission” for the purpose of developing a statewide framework for use in the future implementation of an expanded dual-enrollment program. Through the program, all college-ready high school students will be eligible to enroll in up to 15 college credits at a partnering institution of higher education while still enrolled in high school. The commission will study a myriad of issues related to the implementation of an expanded dual enrollment program such as program and tuition costs, transportation services, and course rigor.

The study commission will consist of 11 members, including the Secretary of Higher Education, the Commissioner of Education, and the chair of the College Affordability Study Commission. The remaining eight members would be appointees from various organizations, including the NJSBA, representing both the K-12 and higher education communities. Upon the completion of its work, the commission will issue a framework to assist in the implementation of an expanded statewide dual-enrollment program. NJSBA supports the legislation.