On June 9, several committees convened and advanced various measures affecting New Jersey school districts.
Assembly Education Committee
Mental Health Assistance Pilot Programs A-660 would establish a four-year pilot program in which up to 15 school districts selected by the New Jersey Department of Education would establish a mental health assistance program in grades K-12. A district’s mental health assistance program would be designed to identify issues affecting student mental health and the possible impact of those issues on academic performance, and to provide intervention, support, and referral services in a confidential setting to help students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. Participating districts would be required to appoint one or more student assistance counselors, or contract with third-party mental health care providers, to facilitate the district’s program. At the conclusion of the program, participating districts would be required to submit a report to the NJDOE detailing the district’s views on the successes and benefits of the program. NJSBA supports the bill. The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Modifying Definition of “HIB” A-1841 would amend the definition of “harassment, intimidation, or bullying” under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. Specifically, the bill would add “action” and “behavior” to the list of motivations of an incident that may be present in order for the incident to qualify as HIB (currently, that list of qualifying motivation reads “any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic”).
NJSBA expressed concerns regarding the inopportune timing and potential burden of this change. Regarding timing, NJSBA noted that since changes to a board of education’s HIB policies required by P.L.2021, c.338 (e.g., specifying certain consequences for a student who commits HIB) are going into effect in the 2022-2023 school year, to change the definition at this time could cause confusion and hinder districts’ implementation of HIB policies. On the merits of the change, NJSBA noted the potential for the amendment to expand the scope of HIB, causing an increase in the number of HIB allegations and associated procedures that will burden districts accustomed to addressing non-HIB troublesome behaviors through their codes of student conduct. The bill now heads to the Assembly Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
Nonpublic Nursing Services A-1906 would require a school district to pay the funds it receives under the Nonpublic School Health Services program directly to the individual providing nursing services for the nonpublic school under certain circumstances. To opt into this altered payment process, a nonpublic school would have to provide the school district certain information, including:
- Documentation attesting to the individual’s status as a registered nurse licensed by the New Jersey State Board of Nursing.
- The hours the individual provided nursing services at the nonpublic school.
- An agreement to assume any liability that may arise if the individual is determined not to be a registered nurse licensed by the Board of Nursing.
These changes would not apply to any existing agreements for the provision of nonpublic nursing services for the 2022-2023 school year. The bill further specifies that it would not prohibit a school district from continuing to use nonpublic school health services funds for administrative costs, and that the bill would not exempt BOEs from public school contracts law when entering into an agreement for the provision of nonpublic school nursing services. NJSBA is monitoring the bill, which may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote.
School Threat Assessment Team A-4075/A-3229 would require each school district to develop a policy for the establishment of a “threat assessment team” at each school. The purpose of the team would be to help ensure a safe and secure school environment by assisting staff in identifying students who pose a potential safety risk and preventing targeted violence in the district. The team would be required to include, to the extent possible, the following individuals, as well as additional employees the team deems appropriate:
- A school employee with expertise in student counseling (e.g., school psychologist, school counselor, or school social worker).
- A teacher.
- A school principal or other senior school administrator.
- A safe school resource officer or school employee who serves as a liaison to law enforcement.
The bill enumerates several specific responsibilities of the team, which must be carried out in consultation with a district’s school safety specialist, including providing guidance for students and staff on recognizing threatening behavior in a student, designating members of the school community to whom threating behavior must be reported, and developing and implementing policies regarding assessment and interventions for students identified as posing a safety threat. The NJDOE, in consultation with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, would be required to develop guidelines for school districts regarding the establishment and training of these teams. NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.
School Mapping Data A-3835 would amend existing law that requires districts to share “blueprints and maps” with local law enforcement to instead require sharing of the following mapping data:
- Aerial images of schools.
- Floor plans, including room and suite numbers.
- Building access points.
- Locations of hazardous materials and utility shutoffs.
- Any other relevant location information.
The bill would require that the above information shared by districts be compatible with all platforms and applications used by law enforcement, be verified for accuracy through an annual walkthrough of school buildings and school grounds and be provided in a printable format. NJSBA requested that the bill provide a state funding mechanism to support districts’ implementation of these requirements. It now heads to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee for further consideration.
Assembly Transportation Committee
Extending Service Life of School Buses A-3990 would extend, for the 2022-2023 school year only, the statutorily permitted service of school buses by one year. For the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, the bill would allow the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, in consultation with the NJDOE, to allow an additional year of service for any school bus used in the prior year that would otherwise be retired, provided any inspections of the school bus determine that it is safe. NJSBA supports the legislation, which is intended to provide relief for districts experiencing delays in the delivery of new buses due to global supply chain issues. It now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.
Expanded Testing for School Bus Drivers A-3564 would authorize school districts to administer certain motor vehicle services at school facilities to assist individuals with becoming school bus drivers. This would include administration of any applicable knowledge test (but not a road test), provision of the CDL manual, identification verification, processing of the permit fee, and application for the passenger endorsement, school bus endorsement, and any other required endorsement. NJSBA supports the bill. It now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.
Senate Transportation Committee
“Emma’s Law” S-57, informally known as “Emma’s Law,” would require any school bus that transports students with special needs to be equipped with interior cameras and global positioning systems. The legislation is inspired by a nonverbal, special needs student named Emma who experienced a stressful and upsetting event when her bus driver became lost for several hours while transporting her, and fellow students, to school.
Specifically, the proposal requires all school buses transporting students with special needs to be equipped with:
- A video camera on the interior of the school bus to monitor student safety while the students are being transported.
- A global positioning system that provides information about the location and speed of each school bus in real time.
- Two-way communications equipment, which may include but is not limited to, a cellular or other wireless telephone.
While the NJSBA appreciates the sponsor’s intent to prevent similar events to the one Emma experienced from occurring in the future, the Association is unable to support this particular approach. In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA expressed concerns that the legislation will impose a financial burden on school districts and does not include a state appropriation or funding mechanism to offset those potentially significant costs. These concerns have been exacerbated by the economic turmoil and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Representatives of the New Jersey Education Association and New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association joined the NJSBA in expressing concerns about the bill.
The bill was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact. Should the bill progress any further, the NJSBA is encouraging the Legislature to include an appropriation or consider alternative approaches that will mitigate its financial impact while still meeting the sponsor’s objective.
Extending Service Life of School Buses S-2593 (the Senate version of A-3990, which is being considered by the Assembly) would extend, for the 2022-2023 school year only, the statutorily permitted service of school buses by one year. For the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, the bill would allow the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, in consultation with the NJDOE, to allow an additional year of service for any school bus used in the prior year that would otherwise be retired, provided any inspections of the school bus determine that it is safe. NJSBA supports the legislation. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Non-CDL Drivers for Small School Buses S-1682 would permit the holder of a valid noncommercial driver’s license, upon completing certain required training, to operate a “Type S” school bus to transport students to and from school and school-related activities. A “Type S” school bus is a motor vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,000 pounds or more that was designed by the manufacturer with a maximum seating capacity of nine or fewer passengers, excluding the driver. These drivers would not be required to obtain a CDL, passenger endorsement, or school bus endorsement. The bill applies to both buses operated by a board of education as well as those operated by contracted transportation providers.
The bill would require boards and school bus contractors to provide certain training to drivers of Type S buses who do not have a school bus endorsement, including the safety education program that districts and contractors must administer to all bus drivers and bus aides under current law, and any training requirements established by the NJDOE in consultation with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The bill would also subject Type S school bus drivers to various provisions of law applicable to school bus drivers, such as criminal history record check requirements and various offenses that disqualify someone from serving as a bus driver.
Other provisions of law that would be amended to include Type S bus drivers include:
- Consequences of knowingly operating a bus transporting students while the driver’s driving privileges have been suspended or revoked.
- Consequences of leaving a pupil on the bus at the end of the driver’s route.
- Consequences of certain motor vehicle violations.
NJSBA recognizes that COVID-19 has exacerbated longstanding challenges posed to district operations by nationwide school bus driver shortages. NJSBA supports this legislation for its potential to relieve those challenges while ensuring proper training and safeguards to maintain student safety. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
Assembly Labor Committee
Pre-Apprenticeship Programs S-525/A-280 enhances and expands the state’s current initiatives under the “Youth Transitions to Work Partnership Act,” to establish pre-apprenticeship programs to assist young people in entering apprenticeship programs with links to post-secondary education and credentials. NJSBA supports the bill. It passed the Senate in March and now heads to the Assembly floor.
Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Military Impact Aid S-1929/A-3668 makes a supplemental appropriation of $1,135,749 to the fiscal year 2022 stabilization aid line item to provide state military impact aid to certain districts and in certain amounts as defined by the bill. It is estimated that this supplemental appropriation would provide the Rockaway Township School District and the Tinton Falls School District with military impact aid in the amounts of $320,582 and $815,167, respectively. NJSBA supports the bill. It passed the Senate in March 2022 and now heads to the Assembly floor.
Assembly Women and Children Committee
New Department of Early Childhood A-4178 would create the Department of Early Childhood as a new principal department within the executive branch. It would transfer certain functions from existing executive branch departments to the new department, including:
- The Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Services.
- All Department of Education responsibilities related to students in grades preschool through grade 3, including teacher licensing, special education, and services related to Title I, bilingual, migrant and homeless education.
- Department of Human Services responsibilities related to children from pregnancy to age eight, including subsidized childcare programs and wraparound care.
- Department of Children and Families responsibilities related to children from pregnancy to age eight, including the Home Visitation Program, licensing of childcare centers and Family Success Centers.
- Department of Health responsibilities related to children from pregnancy to age eight, including early intervention under IDEA Part C, Improving Pregnancy Outcomes Program and New Jersey WIC Breastfeeding Services.
The bill would require the commissioners of Education, Human Services, Children and Families and Health to develop a schedule for the orderly transfer of functions to the new Department of Early Childhood. The bill was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it awaits further consideration. In June, the Senate Education Committee approved the bill’s Senate counterpart, S-2475, and referred it to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.
Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee
Reporting Cybersecurity Incidents A-1983 would require municipalities, counties, and school districts to report cybersecurity incidents.
Under the bill, the attorney general, in consultation with the New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell, would develop an online cybersecurity incident reporting form for a designated employee to report a cybersecurity incident.
The bill provides that the online form would be used promptly after the designated employee has been made aware of a cybersecurity incident and that cybersecurity incident has done either of the following:
- Compromised the confidentiality, integrity, availability, or privacy of the billing, communications, data management or information systems, or the information resources thereon.
- Compromised the industrial control system, if applicable, including monitoring operations, and centralized control systems, that adversely impacted, disabled, or manipulated infrastructure, resulting in loss of service or damage to infrastructure.
Under the bill, no later than 30 days after receiving a cybersecurity incident that has been submitted through the online form, the New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell would require an audit of the cybersecurity program of a municipality, county, or school district, and any actions a municipality, county, or school district took in response to the cybersecurity incident.
The bill provides that the audit of a municipality, county, or school district, would identify:
- Cyberthreats and vulnerabilities to a municipality, county, or school district.
- Weaknesses in municipal, county, or school district cybersecurity programs.
- Strategies to address those weaknesses as to protect a municipality, county, or school district from the threat of future cybersecurity incidents.
Under the bill, the audit established would be conducted by a qualified and independent cybersecurity company and would be paid for by the Department of Law and Public Safety.
The bill provides that after the audit is conducted, a governing body of a municipality or county, or a school district, would submit the audit and any corrective action plans derived from the audit to the New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell. The audit and corrective action plans would be exempt from the Open Public Records Act, and costs for compliance would be reimbursed. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.