On Jan. 7, Gov. Murphy signed legislation intended to ensure the Amistad Commission maintains its independence and is provided with sufficient resources to conduct its work. 

The Amistad Commission was created by law in 2002 to coordinate educational and other programs on slavery in America and African-American history. Under the original statute, the Amistad Commission was established in the executive branch and located within the Department of State.  In June 2011, Gov. Chris Christie issued a reorganization plan that transferred the Amistad Commission from the Department of State to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to improve efficiency. 

As enacted, S-1028/A-3601 amends the statute that created the Amistad Commission to provide that the commission is located in, but not of, the NJDOE, rather than within the Department of State. The bill requires the commission to appoint an executive director and explicitly provides that financial support for the operations of the Amistad Commission will be appropriated by the Legislature to the commission through a separate line item in the annual appropriations act. 

The law will also require boards of education to include instruction that includes information about the centuries of accomplishments by African Americans in the building and development of America. The instruction must enable students to know and understand the nation’s heritage of slavery and freedom and the contributions of African Americans to all areas of American society throughout history. Courses must also emphasize the personal responsibility of each citizen to fight racism and hatred and to uphold the national ideals of freedom and justice. The NJDOE will work with the Amistad Commission to ensure that the assessment tools for New Jersey schools are inclusive of the curricular requirements established under the bill. 

COVID-19 Procurement Measure Advances 

On Jan. 11, the full Senate approved A-4461, which requires the state to enter into contracts and coordinate with certain cooperative purchasing systems to assist public schools (i.e., school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools) in the purchase of COVID-19 related goods and services. Specifically, the legislation directs the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) to coordinate with the lead agency of any state-approved cooperative purchasing system that includes one or more boards of education for the procurement of goods and services that aid in meeting COVID-19 health and safety standards. The bill permits the state to award contracts to more than one bidder.   

Under the bill, a board of education may purchase COVID-19 related goods and services, upon adoption of a resolution, through the contract or contracts for such goods and services entered into by the N.J. Department of Education.  

NJSBA supports the bill, which is part of the Association’s “Pandemic Advocacy Agenda” outlined in the August report “Choosing the Best Road Back for Our Children.” In that report, the Association maintained that a statewide mechanism to facilitate school district purchasing of medical supplies and technological devices is critical to restarting the in-person educational process. 

The bill now returns to the General Assembly, which passed a previous version of the bill in August, to concur with amendments made in the Senate. From there, the bill will go to the governor. 

Assembly Voting Session 

The General Assembly also held a voting session on Jan. 11 and approved the following education-related bill: 

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.  

The bill has passed both houses of the Legislature and now heads to the governor.