The Legislature on June 20 approved a new fiscal year 2020 budget, though the governor has not said whether he will approve it, veto it, or trim spending through line item vetoes.

The Legislature’s budget, as reported in last week’s School Board Notes, would increase extraordinary special education aid by $50 million and provide up to $20 million in emergency relief set aside for districts facing state aid reductions. To avoid a government shutdown, a new budget must be approved by June 30.

In addition to passing their own version of a budget during last Thursday’s voting sessions, the Senate and Assembly approved 15 other measures being actively tracked by the NJSBA that would affect public school districts and students.  Below is a summary of those bills and their status:

Bills Passed Both Houses, Sent to Governor

The following education-related bills have passed both houses of the Legislature and now await gubernatorial action:

Mental Health Education S-2861/S-3081/A-4592/A-4446 would require school districts to ensure that their health education programs for students in grades kindergarten through 12 recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health, and the relationship between physical and mental health, to enhance student understanding, attitudes, and behaviors that promote health, well-being, and human dignity.  The instruction in mental health must be adapted to the age and understanding of the students.  The instruction will include information on substance abuse.

The legislation also directs the State Board of Education to review and update the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education to ensure the incorporation of instruction in mental health in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12. In its review, the State Board is directed to consult with mental health experts. NJSBA supports the legislation.

This summer, NJSBA will issue a report on mental health services in the public schools. The report, titled “Building a Foundation for Hope,” will include information on the status of students’ mental health, and recommended action by local school boards.

“The NJSBA task force urged support for this legislation,” explained Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director. “It is crucial that our students understand mental health and develop ways to cope with life’s challenges,” he said. “Including mental health as part of the curriculum is a logical first step.”

Retired, Interim Superintendents Contracts  S-3899/A-5375 modifies an exception to the re-enrollment requirement for certain retired members of the teachers’ pension fund (TPAF).  It allows a TPAF retiree to be employed, without re-enrollment in TPAF, by a board of education as a certificated superintendent or a certificated administrator on a contractual basis for a period that exceeds two years when the Commissioner of Education determines that it is in the “best interests of the school district.” NJSBA supports the bill.

Child Care Services Pilot Program A-5066/S-3330 authorizes school districts to provide childcare services at district facilities for children younger than school age. The services may be provided by the district itself, a sponsor approved by the school board, or a childcare program licensed by the state. Children of residents of the school district and district employees receive placement preference. If space is still available, the district may provide childcare service for residents outside the district. The tuition charged for such services must be within the range of tuition amounts charged by licensed childcare centers located within the county of the school district. Any revenue raised beyond costs incurred by providing these services must go to the general fund of the district budget.

In May, the Assembly Women and Children Committee (AWC) amended the bill to limit it to a five-year pilot program for 15 community providers in operation at the time of enactment. At the end of five years, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will submit a report to the governor. The report will discuss:

  • Cost comparisons for families receiving child care services from a pilot program facility as compared to the costs of attendance at child care centers in the same geographic area;
  • Revenue generated for school districts whose facilities are used in the pilot program; and
  • Other factors deemed appropriate by DCF for evaluating the impact and effect of community providers operating in public school facilities.

The bill, referred to as the “Teddy Bear Academy” bill, is the result of an issue in the Evesham school district. There, the school board had contracted with the Teddy Bear Academy to provide daycare at school facilities that had become vacant through attrition. Competitors of the Teddy Bear Academy objected that the law currently does not allow this arrangement.

NJSBA originally supported this legislation but withdrew its support following the AWC amendments. Although the bill will allow the Teddy Bear Academy arrangement, as well as others currently in existence to continue, it is potentially limited to five years. Further, the amendments bar school districts not participating in the pilot program from following the Evesham/Teddy Bear Academy model.

Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights S-2044/S-1896 creates a “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights Act” recognizing that students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind have the same rights and potential as other students.  The bill specifies the “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights” would include rights for the students’ access to appropriate screening, assessment and early intervention. Among other things, it would include the students’ right to have opportunities to associate with deaf adult role models and school peers.  The bill also requires school districts to provide these students with a placement that is best suited to the student’s individual needs including social, emotional, communication, and cultural needs.

NJSBA supports the bill. If signed into law in its current form, the legislation would go into effect 30 days following enactment.

Sex Abuse Liability Standards A-5392/S-3739 establishes new liability standards in sexual abuse lawsuits filed against public entities and public employees. It would expressly provide that the statutory immunity from lawsuits granted to public entities and public employees in the “New Jersey Tort Claims Act” would not be applicable to the following types of sexual abuse lawsuits:

  • A suit for damages against a public entity or public employee as a result of sexual abuse being committed against a person, which was caused by a willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of the public entity or public employee; or
  • A suit for damages against a public entity as a result of sexual abuse being committed against a minor under the age of 18, which was caused by the negligent hiring, supervision or retention of any public employee.

Based on the amendments in the bill, any available immunity for public entities and public employees from some source of law other than the “New Jersey Tort Claims Act” could be raised by public entities and public employees as a defense to any of the aforementioned types of sexual abuse lawsuits. The bill would take effect on Dec. 1, 2019. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Bills Passed Senate

The full Senate has approved the following measures:

Athlete Health Bills The following three bills, all of which the NJSBA supports, are aimed at promoting the health and safety of student athletes:

Concussion Protocol S-2442 provides that a student-athlete who sustains a concussion must return to regular school activities prior to returning to competition. The bill requires school districts to implement a five-step return-to-competition process.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed recommendations concerning a student-athlete’s return to sports and activities following a concussion or other head injury.  According to the centers, a student-athlete who sustains a concussion or other head injury should not return to competition or practice until he or she first returns to regular school activities and is no longer experiencing symptoms of the injury when conducting those activities.  Once those conditions are met, the centers recommend that the student-athlete engage in a graduated, five-step “Return-to-Play-Progression” to ensure the student-athlete’s safety and well-being. The centers’ “Return-to-Play-Progression” recommendations are:  (1) light aerobic activity; (2) moderate activity; (3) heavy, non-contact activity; (4) practice and full contact; and (5) competition. The bill requires the N.J. Department of Education to revise its athletic head injury safety training program to include information on the centers’ graduated, five-step “Return to Play Progression” recommendations. It also requires a school district to revise its written policy concerning the prevention and treatment of sports-related concussions and other head injuries to also include the centers’ “Return to Play Progression” recommendations.

Heat and Humidity Policy  S-2443 requires school districts that participate in statewide interscholastic sports programs to adopt the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (NJSIAA) heat and humidity practice policy.  This bill requires each school district that is a member of NJSIAA to adopt the association’s policy for conducting practice in all sports during times of high heat or humidity.  Under the bill, the association’s policy must address the scheduling of practice during times of various heat and humidity levels; the ratio of time devoted to workouts to time allotted for rest and hydration during various heat and humidity levels; and the heat and humidity levels at which practice will be canceled. Under the bill, guidelines included in the association’s policy will provide a default policy to those responsible or sharing duties for making decisions concerning cancellation of practices and contests based on the presence of heat and humidity. The bill also requires these school districts to purchase a WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) tool to measure the heat stress in direct sunlight at the practice site. Heat stress consists of temperature, humidity, wind speed, the angle of the sun, and cloud coverage.

Emergency Action Plan S-2494 requires that a public school district and a nonpublic school that includes any of the grades six through 12 establish and implement an emergency action plan for responding to a serious or potentially life-threatening sports-related injury.  The plan will document the proper procedures to be followed when a student sustains a serious injury while participating in sports or other athletic activity.  The plan will be specific to the activity site and must be developed in consultation with local emergency medical services personnel. The emergency action plan established by a school district or nonpublic school is required to include the following items: a list of the employees, team coaches, and licensed athletic trainers in each school who are trained in first aid or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The plan would also require identification of the personnel in each school responsible for carrying out the emergency action plan, with a description of their respective responsibilities. Also required would be identification of the activity location or venue; identification of the equipment and supplies needed to respond to a serious sports-related injury including, but not limited to, responding to the injured student, summoning emergency medical care, assisting emergency responders in getting to the injured student, and documenting the actions taken during the emergency. The bill also requires that the emergency action plan be reviewed annually and updated as necessary. In addition, the individuals who will be responsible for executing the plan in an emergency must rehearse the plan annually in each school.

Anti-Bullying “Mallory’s Law”  S-3433, known as “Mallory’s Law,” revises provisions required in a school district’s anti-bullying policy; provides for civil liability of a parent of a minor who is guilty of  cyberharassment or harassment; and increases certain fines against parents.  The bill requires that harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) complaints be on numbered forms. The form must be completed, even if a preliminary determination is made under the school district’s policy that the reported incident or complaint is outside the scope of the definition of harassment, intimidation, or bullying. Further, under the bill, for the first act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying committed by a student, a copy of the results of the investigation will be placed in the student’s record and the student may be subject to discipline imposed by the superintendent. For the second act, a copy of the results of the investigation will be placed in the student’s record and the student will be subject to disciplinary action established by the superintendent; and for the third act, a copy of the results of the investigation will be placed in the student’s record, and the executive county superintendent will impose the appropriate discipline and require the student, accompanied by a parent or guardian, to complete a class or training program to reduce the tendency toward HIB behavior. The executive county superintendent will also notify the appropriate law enforcement official of a possible violation of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice.  The bill increases fines under the provisions of the cyberharassment statute, and the court may order a parent or guardian of a minor under the age of 16 who has been adjudicated delinquent of cyberharassment to attend classes or training with the minor.

“Learning Disabilities Awareness Month” SJR-29 designates the month of October of each year as “Learning Disabilities Awareness Month” in order to increase public awareness of learning disabilities, their prevalence, the difficulties faced by those who have them, and the availability of appropriate educational resources, accommodations, instruction, and supports. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Amistad Commission S-3817 reallocates the Amistad Commission from the Department of State to the NJ Department of Education.  The commission was first established by a 2002 law to coordinate educational and other programs on slavery in America and African-American history. The bill would require all boards of education to include instruction that infuses into all courses on the United States, the centuries of accomplishments by African Americans in the building and development of America. NJSBA supports the bill.

STEM Teacher Grants  S-2660 establishes a grant program in the N.J. Department of Education and a tuition reimbursement program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) for STEM teachers.  Under the grant program, an eligible teacher may receive additional pay to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) classes at a nonpublic school.  Participating nonpublic schools would form partnerships with eligible teachers and school districts, in which a teacher employed by the district teaches STEM classes at the nonpublic school at such times and during such hours mutually agreed upon by the teacher, nonpublic school, and school district. The commissioner of education will award grants based upon review of the applications submitted by nonpublic schools and within the limit of available funds.  Approved grant funds will be allocated by the NJDOE to the school district of each eligible teacher participating in the grant program, and the district will use the funds to provide compensation to a participating teacher.

Under the tuition reimbursement program established by HESAA, reimbursement will be provided for a portion of tuition expenses incurred by a person completing a master’s degree or Ph.D. program in STEM or completing 30 credits in a coherent sequence of courses in STEM.

The legislation has also been approved by an Assembly committee and is scheduled for a final vote this Thursday.  While the bill includes an appropriation of $5 million, the FY2020 budget bill passed by the Legislature last week does not included any funding to support the program.

Bills Passed by the Assembly

The following education-related measures have been approved by the full Assembly:

School Security Audits A-4147 requires school districts to conduct an audit of security features of district buildings, grounds, and communication systems using a standardized checklist and to submit an audit to the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the New Jersey Department of Education.  During committee deliberations on the bill, NJSBA secured an amendment to ensure that these security documents would be kept confidential. NJSBA supports this bill.

Deaf Education Working Group A-1893/S-2045 establishes a Working Group on Deaf Education in the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE), which will make 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 and is charged with examining and making recommendations to the NJDOE and the NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) for:

  1. the development of a parent resource guide for parents to monitor and track deaf and hard- of-hearing children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition and developmental stages toward English literacy;
  2. the selection of 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; and
  3. the development of methods of evaluation to annually collect and publicly report data on language acquisition and developmental progress of children from birth to age five who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

The bill directs NJDOE to develop a parent resource guide for the parents of deaf and hard-of- hearing children and to make it publicly available on its website.  The bill also directs NJDOE to develop and disseminate guidance to school districts on early intervention assessments to understand the language and literacy development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

NJSBA supports the bill. The Senate passed a previous version of the bill in January, so the bill now returns there to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.

Regulating Online Education Services Providers  A-4978 prohibits online education services from using and disclosing certain information, engaging in targeted advertising, and requires deletion of certain information in certain circumstances.  This bill prohibits an operator of an online education service offering education for grades kindergarten through 12 from knowingly:

  • using information, including educational records, created or gathered by the operator, to amass a profile about a student for any purpose other than the furtherance of kindergarten through 12th grade education;
  • selling an educational record to any person or entity, with certain exceptions; and
  • disclosing an educational record collected or maintained by the service unless the disclosure is:
    1. made in furtherance of the educational purpose of the service, provided the recipient of the educational record is not to further disclose the information unless done to allow or improve the operability and functionality within that student’s classroom or school;
    2. required by federal or state law;
    3. made to respond to or participate in a judicial process;
    4. to protect the safety of students or security of the service; or
    5. made for legitimate research purposes as required by federal or state law.

NJSBA sought and received an amendment requiring consultation with the N.J. Department of Education prior to the promulgation of regulations. NJSBA supports the legislation.