On Monday, May 9, the Legislature returned to the State House for its first non-budget related committee meeting since mid-March. The Senate Education Committee was among those that met and advanced the following measures:

Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act S-2481, titled the “Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act,” would establish several requirements related to the adoption of curricula implementing the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The bill would require:

  • Boards of education to annually offer a public comment opportunity on any curriculum proposed for the succeeding school year for the implementation of NJSLS-CHPE. Such an opportunity could occur at a public meeting of the board or of the appropriate committee of the board.
  • Boards of education to post information on their website regarding board-approved CHPE curriculum, and information regarding the process for parents to excuse their child(ren) from any part of instruction in health, family life education, or sex education that is in conflict with their conscience or sincerely held moral or religious beliefs pursuant to existing law (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-4.7).
  • The Department of Education to provide districts with optional support materials to assist in the development of local curricula aligned with the NJSLS.

This legislation was introduced by Senate Education Chair Vin Gopal in response to the ongoing public discourse regarding the 2020 NJSLS-CHPE, particularly certain standards regarding gender expression and sexual development. NJSBA worked closely with the sponsor and other education organizations as the legislation was being drafted. On Monday, the Association testified in support of the bill and thanked the sponsor for his efforts to provide clarity regarding the 2020 NJSLS-CHPE and for lifting up the importance of community input into school districts’ development and implementation of curriculum. The NJSBA has a long-standing policy promoting parental involvement in education and meaningful participation at all public board meetings.

Access to Feminine Hygiene Products S-1221 requires school districts to ensure that students in each school serving any of the grades 6-12 have direct access to feminine hygiene products (defined to mean “tampons and sanitary napkins for use in connection with the menstrual cycle”) in all of the school bathrooms free of charge. The state would be required to pay the cost of providing these products. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Alternative Teaching Pathway S-1553 would establish the “alternative certificate of eligibility with advanced standing” and the “alternative certificate of eligibility.” A teacher candidate would be eligible for the alternative CEAS if the candidate meets all CEAS eligibility requirements except the requirement to pass the appropriate state test(s) of subject matter knowledge (i.e., Praxis II). A teacher candidate would be eligible for the alternative CE if the candidate meets all CE eligibility requirements except the basic skills requirement or the requirement to pass the Praxis II. Holders of the alternative CEAS or alternative CE would be eligible to receive their standard certification upon completion of four years of continuous employment using their alternative certificate, and provided that they complete all applicable requirements to earn their standard certificate. The bill prohibits the imposition of additional qualifications toward the acquisition of tenure on holders of alternative CEs/CEASs and provides that employment accrued under an alternative CE/CEAS must be applied toward eligibility for tenure in the same manner as employment accrued under a traditional CE or CEAS. NJSBA supports the bill.

Emergency Bonding Authority S-1892 would create a streamlined process for school districts and certain municipalities to issue bonds to finance repairs to facilities and equipment damaged by natural disasters for which the state has declared a state of emergency. Specifically, Type II school districts without a board of school estimate may issue  bonds without voter approval; in the case of Type I school districts and Type II school districts with a board of school estimate, such bonds may be issued by the board of education or the governing body of the municipality comprised within the district without the approval of the board of school estimate or the adoption of a municipal ordinance as applicable. The bill would authorize boards of education to approve the issuance of these bonds via adoption of a resolution, which must contain certain information about the project enumerated in the bill, in a public meeting upon an affirmative vote by two-thirds of its full membership.

The district must demonstrate that the repairs are necessary to provide a thorough and efficient education, and that at least a portion of the costs are eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If the repairs constitute a school facility project eligible for debt service aid pursuant to the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (N.J.S.A. 18A:7G-1 et seq.), the district must seek approval from the NJDOE via an application process established by the commissioner. The bill specifies that the NJDOE must review these applications on an expedited basis, and that, notwithstanding the EFCFA, the commissioner may not deny such an application merely based on whether the project is consistent with the district’s long-range facilities plan.

Upon the adoption of a resolution approving the issuance, the district must submit an application to the commissioner. If the commissioner approves the application, principal and interest on the bonds would be repaid with school district funds, and the amount required for those payments must be certified by the board of education and included in the taxes assessed, levied, and collected in the municipality or municipalities comprising the school district for those purposes.

It is the NJSBA’s understanding that this legislation was introduced in response to severe damage to facilities of the Cresskill Public School District caused by Hurricane Ida. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Learning Loss Reports S-2268 requires the commissioner of education to prepare two reports regarding the impact of COVID-19 on schools and students. The first report (“learning loss report”), due May 1, 2023, would identify and quantify the impact of COVID-19 on student academic outcomes. The second report would summarize the continuation of school services during COVID-19 and would be due by Sept. 30, 2023. The bill would require school districts to submit various data to the NJDOE to inform these reports, including, but not limited to, the dates of pauses in academic instruction as a result of COVID-19; a description of the instructional format provided by the district; data on the amount of class time students spent in synchronous and asynchronous remote learning; the percentage of students and teachers with access to reliable Internet and technology and a description of the district’s efforts to ensure that access; and certain academic data, such as four-year adjusted cohort graduate rates, attendance rates and attendance policy. The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Student Civic Engagement S-2304 permits, beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, excused absences for students who attend civic events. This bill would permit public school pupils in grades six through 12 one excused absence to attend a civic event each school year. School districts would also be permitted to provide additional excused absences for such purposes. Excused absences taken under this bill would not be reflected on student attendance records. Parents or guardians of pupils who wish to use an excused absence under this bill would be required to provide signed written notice at least five school days in advance of the intended excused absence and such other documentation as the school district deems necessary to prove that the pupil meets the requirements for an excused absence. The bill would require the commissioner of education to provide guidance to districts regarding excused absences for civic events, and the State Board of Education would adopt implementing regulations. The Assembly Education Committee approved this bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-1271, in March and it awaits consideration by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. NJSBA supports the legislation.

School Counselor Requirements S-2323 would establish several requirements related to school counselor certification and employment. The bill defines the role of a school counselor as someone who recognizes and responds to the need for mental health services that promote social and emotional wellness and development for all students and is tasked with designing and delivering a comprehensive program for school counseling that promotes the achievement of students. The bill would require:

  • Each school counselor employed by a district to spend at least 80% of their staff time during normal school hours providing certain school counseling services including, but not limited to, specific services enumerated in the legislation.
  • School counselors to complete professional development in relevant areas, such as the promotion of mental health awareness and trauma-informed counseling.
  • School counseling certification programs at institutions of higher education to incorporate the American School Counselor Association’s national model for comprehensive school counseling programs or state-approved model. The programs would also have to provide training in the delivery of social and emotional learning programming as well as postsecondary and career planning.
  • The commissioner of education to appoint a state school counselor liaison to work with school districts to facilitate best practices and serve as a resource expert for school counselors.

The NJSBA believes school counselors serve a critical role in providing academic, social, emotional and mental health supports to students, while promoting a positive school climate. NJSBA expressed general support for the bill’s attempt to lift up the profession and promote best practices in school counseling services. However, the Association expressed concern that the bill is overly prescriptive and inappropriately restricts local flexibility to utilize school counselors according to the unique and evolving needs and circumstances of each individual school district. Specifically, NJSBA opposed the provision requiring each school counselor to spend at least 80% of their time on certain enumerated activities and is requesting an amendment to remove that provision. The bill heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.