On Monday, March 18, Governor Murphy took action on over twenty pieces of legislation that were sent to his desk earlier this year.  Several of those he signed into law will impact New Jersey’s public school districts and students and are summarized below.

Class 3 SLEO Revisions A-1400/S-3245 (P.L.2019, c.51) makes various changes to the law governing Class III Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs).  The original Class III law was enacted in 2016 and established an additional category of SLEOs who provide security in schools and county colleges. NJSBA supports this measure as it aims to increase the pool of applicants who may serve as Class III officers, while maintaining the requirement that such officers complete a School Resource Officer training program. Specifically, this legislation makes the following changes to the law:

  1. Makes more law enforcement officers eligible to be appointed as a Class III SLEO. The law currently limits eligibility to an individual who served as a full-time officer in any municipality or county of this state, or as a member of the State Police.
  2. Removes the requirement that the officer be retired from their law enforcement position within three years of appointment as a Class III special officer.
  3. Establishes that Class III SLEOs may not be assigned to an extracurricular or after-school function at a school or college unless that assignment has first been made available to full-time members employed by the municipality, school, or county college.
  4. Includes county vocational schools in the definition of a “county college” to clarify that Class III SLEOs are authorized to serve in county vocational schools.

These statutory revisions go into effect on Oct. 1, 2019.

Enhanced Penalties for Failing to Report Child Sex AbuseS-641/A-850 (P.L.2019, c.40) upgrades the penalty for failing to report an act of sexual abuse against a child to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Under existing state law, failure to report an act of child abuse (including sexual abuse) constitutes a disorderly persons offense, which carries a term of imprisonment for up to 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Under this bill, failure to report an act of sexual abuse would be deemed a fourth degree crime, which carries a penalty of up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

NJSBA supports the measure, which took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

Reporting Bad School Bus DriversS-1773/A-4031 (P.L.2019, c.43) would require all school buses to display a phone number, website address, or other identifying information that allows the public to report a bus driver’s misconduct while operating the school bus. Such reports would be made to the board of education or nonpublic school which uses the school bus. The bill would further require the commissioner of education to promulgate regulations that establish: a) the appropriate official to address and respond to a complaint of driver misconduct; b) the appropriate actions which a school may take to respond to a complaint of driver misconduct; and c) the time period during which a board of education may act to respond to a complaint.

NJSBA supports the measure, which first becomes applicable in the 2019-2020 school year.

Combatting Sexual Misconduct and Abuse

The governor approved the following three bills, all of which were supported by NJSBA, that are designed to reduce sexual misconduct and abuse in public schools.  All of them took effect immediately upon receiving the governor’s signature:

TEACHNJ Arbitrator TrainingA-4406/S-2712 (P.L.2019, c.45) requires arbitrators who hear tenure charge matters pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act to receive training on conduct unbecoming a school employee, including issues related to allegations of sexual assault and child abuse.  The purpose of the training would be to assist arbitrators in determining matters in which “conduct unbecoming” is the basis of the tenure charges made against an employee.  The program would be developed in consultation with various stakeholders in the school law and education communities, including the NJSBA.

Revoking Teaching CertificatesS-2714/A-4408 (P.L.2019, c.46) provides that if a board of education determines a teaching staff member has failed to report an allegation of child abuse in accordance with state law or regulations, the board of education must submit a report to the State Board of Examiners that outlines its finding. The State Board of Examiners will review the certification of the teaching staff member to determine if the failure to report warrants the revocation or suspension of his or her certificate.

Retaining Surveillance FootageS-2715/A-4199 (P.L.2019, c.47) requires the state’s attorney general, in consultation with the commissioner of education, to develop a protocol establishing policies regarding the retention of video footage from school surveillance systems. The protocol would address matters such as the amount of time that the video footage may be retained; measures to be taken to limit access to the footage; and compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Senate Advances Mental Health, Sexual Misconduct Bills

The full Senate convened for a voting session on Thursday, March 14 and approved several bills that are being actively tracked by the NJSBA:

Sexual Misconduct and Child Abuse Bills to Governor The Senate gave final legislative approval to the following measures, which build upon the bills recently signed by the governor that center around sexual misconduct and child abuse in schools.  Each of them are supported by the NJSBA and now head to the governor.

Task Force on Child Sexual AbuseA-4403/S-2707 establishes a task force within the NJDOE to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in this state, including recommendations for school policies and training that address the sexual abuse of children. NJSBA would have a representative on the task force.

Criminalizing Sex with Adult StudentsA-4404/A-1909/S-2709 provides that certain persons who commit an act of sexual penetration or contact with students who are at least 18 but less than 22 years old are guilty of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact. Current law already makes it illegal for an individual to engage in such activity with anyone under the age of 18 over whom the individual has supervisory or disciplinary authority.  Under this bill, a person would be guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who is 18 years old or older and less than 22 years old if: (a) the victim is a student in a school where the actor is a teaching staff member, substitute teacher, school bus driver, other school employee, contracted service provider, or volunteer; and (b) the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim. Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, or a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

Child Abuse Training for Teaching CandidatesS-2711/A-4405 mandates child abuse and sexual abuse training for all candidates for teaching certification.  Beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, all such candidates who have completed an educator preparation program shall have satisfactorily completed a course or training that includes the recognition of, and the requirement to report, child and sexual abuse. All commissioner-approved educator preparation programs must review and update their programs to implement the bill’s requirements.

Promoting Mental Health Awareness The following pair of NJSBA-supported bills would require schools to incorporate instruction on mental health and suicide prevention into their curricula:

Mental Health EducationS-2861/S-3081 requires 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 relation 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.

Suicide Prevention Programs Current law requires that instruction in suicide prevention be included in an appropriate place in the curriculum of elementary school, middle school, and high school students.  S-3172 provides that the instruction in suicide prevention will also include mental health as it relates to suicide prevention.  The instruction must incorporate evidence-based standards and be adapted to the age and understanding of the students.

The bill also provides elements that may be included as part of the instruction:

  • The concept of wellness including self-care and personal responsibility for one’s own mental health and wellness.
  • The concept of mental health as an integral part of health.
  • Recognition of the warning signs of suicide.
  • Awareness of the risk of suicide and self-harm.
  • The relationship between mental health, substance abuse, and other negative coping behaviors.
  • The negative impact of stigma and cultural attitudes toward mental illness.
  • The implications of risk factors, protective factors, and resiliency on mental health and wellness.
  • Identifying appropriate professionals, services, and family supports for suicide prevention.

The Senate also approved the following education-related measures at its March 14 voting session:

Nepotism Policies The Senate voted to accept the governor’s recommendations on A-557, which requires the adoption of nepotism policies by school districts and charter schools. This legislation would put into statute many of the nepotism regulations currently governing school districts and charter schools. It also makes the positions of in-house school attorney and director of personnel subject to the nepotism policy.

A-557 received final legislative approval in December, but was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Murphy and returned to the Legislature with recommended changes. The governor’s conditional veto recommended that the Legislature make technical amendments. They include a provision that a district administrator — including a director of personnel, or a school board attorney — who has an immediate family member who is a member of the same statewide union in another district, may serve as a technical resource to the negotiating team and may provide the technical information necessary to the collective bargaining process when no one else in the district can provide such information.

The Assembly concurred with the governor’s recommendations in February, so the bill now returns to his desk for approval.

Extending Statute of Limitations in Sex Abuse CasesS-477 extends the statute of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse claims and expands the categories of potential defendants in civil actions.  The bill creates a two-year window for parties to bring previously time-barred actions based on sexual abuse.  This bill would provide minors who were victims of abuse with up to 37 years to pursue a claim against a school district in court.  NJSBA supported the legislation and the extension of the statute of limitations but expressed concerns about a provision that would require these suits to be handled outside of the traditional pathways for suing public entities.  NJSBA sought clarifications about that provision in the bill.  The bill must now be approved by the full General Assembly, which has already advanced the measure through committee, before heading to the governor’s desk.

Epi-Pen Administration by Bus DriversS-1960 establishes requirements for the development of a policy for the emergency administration of epinephrine to a student for anaphylaxis. This bill would supplement existing law to include school bus drivers among those permitted to administer epinephrine to a student, provided that certain conditions are met.  Such conditions include a written authorization by a parent or guardian for a driver to administer epinephrine to the student, and requirement that the school bus driver be properly trained in its administration via a pre-filled auto-injector mechanism.  The bill provides that school bus drivers, school districts, nonpublic schools, and school bus contractors that provide pupil transportation services under contract with a board of education will have immunity from liability for good faith acts or omissions consistent with the provisions of the bill.  NJSBA supports the bill. Its Assembly counterpart, A-3679, was released by the Assembly Education Committee in January and is primed for a floor vote.

Tax Credits for Apprenticeships S-3062 provides businesses with a credit against the corporation business tax or the gross income tax for each employee employed in an apprenticeship registered with the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The purpose of the tax credit is to encourage employers to add highly skilled workers to New Jersey’s workforce.  The DOL-registered apprenticeship system combines technical instruction with structured on-the-job experience to match individuals with employers in need of qualified, skilled workers. NJSBA supports the bill.

Electronic BiddingS-3137, also known as the “Electronic Bidding Construction Act,” would require public contracting agencies, including local boards of education, to use electronic procurement technologies for any project that has a value exceeding $5 million. While supportive of the overall intent of the legislation, the NJSBA and its partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and N.J. Association of Counties have expressed concerns over the mandatory nature of the bill.  The NJSBA is urging the Legislature to refrain from establishing a statewide mandate until we have a comprehensive understanding of the financial, practical and logistical benefits and consequences of electronic procurement.

Behavior Modification and PSSD TuitionS-3288 requires NJDOE to define expenditures for behavior modification at approved private schools for students with disabilities as allowable instructional cost for the purpose of setting a tuition rate. Behavior modification is an evidenced-based instructional strategy and is a vital component to the individualized education program (IEP) for many students with disabilities, including those with autism and emotional disabilities.

Commission on Latino and Hispanic HeritageS-3327 establishes the Commission on Latino and Hispanic Heritage within the N.J. Department of Education. The purpose of the commission is to survey, design, encourage, and promote the implementation of Latino and Hispanic cultural and educational programs in this state. NJSBA supports the bill.

Using Schools for Child Care ServicesS-3330 authorizes school districts to provide child care services at district facilities for children younger than school age. The child care services may be provided by the district itself, a sponsor approved by the school board, or a child care program licensed by the state. Placement preference is given to the children of residents of the school district and district employees. If space is still available, the district may provide child care service for residents outside the district. The tuition charged for such child care services must be within the range of tuition amounts charged for such services by licensed child care centers that are in the county in which the school district is located. Any revenue raised beyond what is needed to cover costs incurred by providing these child care services must go to the general fund of the district budget.  NJSBA supports the bill.

The bill, referred to as the “Teddy Bear Academy” bill, is the result of an issue emanating from 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. This bill fixes that issue.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee (Monday, March 18)

The committee has advanced the following measure, which may now proceed to a vote before the full Senate:

MAST School Transportation Costs S-1796 would permit the school district of residence to provide aid in lieu of transportation to a pupil attending the Marine Academy of Science and Technology if the student lives outside of Monmouth County and more than 40 miles from the academy. Under existing law, the resident district is required to provide transportation to and from MAST for any of its resident pupils attending the school. Such a requirement can be very costly for a district that is not near the school.

The committee amended the bill and inserted a “grandfather clause” that will require the resident district to continue providing transportation to any student currently attending MAST until such student graduates.

NJSBA supports the legislation, which may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

Assembly Appropriations Committee (Monday, March 18)

The committee advanced the following bill:

Recruiting Male Minority Teachers S-703/A-3141 directs the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to establish a pilot program to recruit male residents of New Jersey who are from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds to enroll in the alternate route teacher preparation program and to match them with teaching opportunities in an underperforming school. Under the bill, the commissioner would select six underperforming schools from throughout the state for participation in the pilot program. The bill directs the commissioner to establish policies and procedures for the recruitment and selection of eligible participants for the program, and for matching the selected participants to teaching opportunities at participating schools under the alternate route program.  Two years after the program starts, the commissioner would submit a report to the governor and Legislature, including a recommendation on the advisability of continuing and expanding the program. NJSBA supports the bill.