On Jan. 6, Assembly and Senate committees approved education-related measures that would screen students for depression, require districts to adopt anti-hazing policies and create an apprenticeship pilot program.

A summary of each approved bill follows.

Assembly Appropriations Committee

Screening Students for Depression  A-3926 requires public schools to administer screenings for depression for students in certain grades.  As amended by the committee, this bill requires a board of education to ensure that students in grades seven through 12 annually receive a health screening for depression.  The screening will be administered by a qualified professional, including a school psychologist, school nurse, guidance counselor, student assistance counselor, physician, school social worker or any other medical or mental health professional. The screening will consist of the Patient Health Questionnaire or an equivalent depression screening tool, as determined by the commissioners of the New Jersey Departments of Education and Children and Families.

As amended and approved by the committee, the bill provides that, in addition to the annual health screening for depression for each student in grades seven through 12, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) shall select one electronic screening tool to be used by all school districts.

Screenings shall be conducted in a manner that accommodates students with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, or low reading proficiency, ensuring the privacy of the student during the screening process and the confidentiality of the results consistent with state and federal laws.

The New Jersey Departments of Education and Children and Families shall jointly establish standards on the procedures to be implemented to conduct the screenings for depression and may provide for other screening tools, including, but not limited to, screening tools for anxiety, substance use disorder, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.

A superintendent shall notify the parent or guardian of a student whose screening for depression detects an abnormality and advise the parent or guardian to seek the care of a healthcare professional  to obtain further evaluation and diagnosis.

Boards of education shall forward the data collected from the screenings administered to the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) and DCF.  The data shall not contain any identifying or confidential information, and it shall be used by the departments to identify trends concerning teenage depression and to develop school and community-based initiatives to address the issue.

The NJDOE and DCF shall annually publish on their websites findings and recommendations that are based on collected data as to additional resources that may be necessary to screen adolescents for depression and further evaluate those who have exhibited abnormalities in depression screenings.

A school district shall obtain written consent from a student’s parent or guardian, upon enrollment or at the beginning of each school year, prior to screening the student for depression.

NJSBA believes that the amendments clarify the screening process for children in middle and high school.  The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Budget Committee on Jan. 9.

Apprenticeships  The following two bills, approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, aim to make apprenticeships more accessible for New Jersey residents.  The 2018 report of the NJSBA’s Task Force on Educational Opportunities for the Non-College-Bound Learner stressed that students should be exposed to the wide array of careers available to them and the multiple pathways to a successful career. These pathways include earning job-specific professional certification and two-year degrees, as well as experience in apprenticeships and internships. Therefore, NJSBA supports these measures:

  • Apprenticeship Pilot Program A-4657/S-3065 directs the New Jersey 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 New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education, four institutions of higher education to participate in the program. The commissioner will submit a report on the implementation of the pilot program, which will include a recommendation on the feasibility of implementing the program statewide. The bill now returns to the Senate, which approved an earlier version of the bill last year, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.
  • Tuition Waivers for Apprenticeships A-4655/S-3063 requires public institutions of higher education to waive the tuition fees of certain courses which are qualified to serve as the classroom training or education component of a registered apprenticeship for eligible persons whose gross aggregate household income is below the state’s median annual income. The bill may be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If passed, it would go to the governor for his consideration.

School Readiness and Workforce Development Program A-5827/S-371 establishes in the NJDOE a five-year, two-generational school readiness and workforce development pilot program. The purpose of the program is to foster family economic self-sufficiency in low-income households by delivering academic and job readiness support services across two generations in the same household. The New Jersey Commissioner of Education will designate the municipalities that will participate in the pilot program, each of which must have a poverty rate that is at least twice the statewide average. The pilot program will include services such as early learning programs; adult education; childcare; housing; job training; transportation; financial literacy; and other related support services such as health and mental health services. The program, which will be overseen by an interagency working group, will also include a long-term plan to adopt a model for the delivery of these services on a statewide basis. NJSBA supports the measure. Approved in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Jan. 6, the bill now moves back to the Senate, which approved an earlier version of the bill, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.

Senate Budget Committee

Anti-Hazing Policies  S3628 Approved by the Senate Budget Committee on Jan. 6, the bill requires institutions of higher education, and public and nonpublic high schools and middle schools, to adopt anti-hazing policies; expands activities encompassing criminal hazing and upgrades penalties for engaging in these activities.  NJSBA supports this bill.