Last week the Legislature returned from its customary budget break and kicked off what is expected to be an incredibly busy spring. On Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, the Assembly and Senate Education Committees convened and advanced over 20 school-related measures. A rundown of the committees’ activity follows.

Assembly Education Committee

(Wednesday, May 12)

Student Retention  A-5365 permits a parent or guardian to request that a student repeat a grade during the 2021-2022 school year. The parent/guardian may make the request which then goes to the principal. If it is determined that grade retention is necessary to meet the academic and social and emotional needs of the student, the school principal or lead person of a charter school or renaissance school project, is required to grant the request of grade retention.  If there is not a consensus as to whether grade retention is necessary, the superintendent of the school district would review the results of the consultation conducted under the bill and make a final determination to grant or deny the written request of grade retention. The bill also permits a school district superintendent to accept a written request of grade retention after June 30, 2021. A superintendent or lead person who chooses to accept a written request of grade retention after June 30, 2021 may grant the request upon review in accordance with the same procedures required for written requests submitted prior to June 30, 2021. NJSBA supports the bill, as amended, as it gives district superintendents final say over any decisions to have a student repeat a grade.

Special Education Students “Aging Out”  A-5366/S-3434 Requires boards of education to provide special education and related services to students exceeding the age of eligibility for special education and related services. This bill would extend the age eligibility for special education and related services by requiring boards of education to provide the education and services included in a student’s individualized education program (IEP) to students attaining the age of 21 during the 2020-2021 school year, the 2021-2022 school year, and the 2022-2023 school year, provided that the parent of the student and the IEP team determine that the student requires additional or compensatory special education and related services, including transition services.  Originally, proposed as an unfunded mandate, the legislature agreed to fully fund the bill. NJSBA thanks the sponsors for fully funding the bill.

Special Education Unit  A-5701 This bill creates a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law and requires an annual report. The bill would establish a unit within the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) dedicated to special education cases. The special education unit would consist of administrative law judges having expertise in special education law.  The number of administrative law judges in the unit would be proportional to the number and complexity of special education cases referred to the OAL. Under the bill, all contested cases concerning special education law referred to the OAL would be assigned to and adjudicated by the administrative law judges in the special education unit. NJSBA supports the bill.

Concussion Protocols  Under S-225/A-679, student athletes who have sustained a concussion would be prohibited from returning to competition until they have returned to regular school activities and are symptom-free. The return of the student athlete or cheerleader would be in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) graduated, six-step “Return to Play Progression” recommendations, which address time-frames for participating in light aerobic activity; moderate activity; heavy, non-contact activity; practice and full contact; and competition. School districts policies will also need to be updated anytime the CDC updates the Return to Play Progression. NJSBA supported the bill.

Concussion Evaluation  A-1599 requires a student who sustains a concussion to receive written clearance to return to school from a licensed health care professional whose scope of practice includes diagnosing and treating concussions. Any restrictions or limitations imposed by the health care professional are to be forwarded to the district 504 team who will identify how the restrictions or limitations will be incorporated. Additionally, students with concussions are barred from physical activity such as recess or physical education until evaluated and cleared by a licensed health care professional. NJSBA supports the bill.

Regional Reapportionment  A-2300 requires apportionment of membership on certain regional district boards of education to be based on the amount of district costs apportioned to each constituent municipality. This bill concerns the membership of the board of education of a regional school district in which a reapportionment of costs among the constituent municipalities has been determined by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, not the voters of the district.  Under these circumstances, the regional district will apportion the membership of its board of education based on how the costs of the regional district are apportioned among the constituent municipalities, except that each constituent municipality would have at least one member on the board.

Asian Heritage  A-3369 establishes a Commission on Asian Heritage in the New Jersey Department of Education. The purpose of the commission is to survey, design, encourage, and promote the implementation of Asian cultural and educational programs in the state. Under the bill, the commission will provide assistance and advice to public and nonpublic schools about the implementation of cultural and educational programs concerning people of Asian descent, meet with county and local school officials and other organizations to assist with the planning, coordination, or modification of courses of study dealing with issues, matters, and subjects concerning the culture, history, and heritage of  people of Asian descent. NJSBA supports the bill.

Board Member Ethics  A-4693 prohibits school officials from using district resources to influence any partisan or nonpartisan election.  In its testimony, the NJSBA pointed out that this bill was unnecessary as the behavior that the bill prohibits is already covered by N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b) which reads, “No school official shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages or employment for himself, members of his immediate family or others.” NJSBA opposes the bill.

Senate Education Committee

(Thursday, May 13)

Robotics  A-2455/S-2240 establishes a pilot program in the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to support FIRST Robotics Programs in school districts. The New Jersey Commissioner of Education shall establish a three-year pilot program that provides grant funding to encourage and support school districts to establish “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) nonprofit organization’s robotics programs. NJSBA supports the bill.

Mental Health Partnership  A-4433/S-2715 creates a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education to train school-based mental health services providers,  expand the pipeline of high-quality, trained providers, and address the shortages of mental health professionals in schools. NJSBA supports the bill.

Wellness Grant Program  A-4434/S-2716 establishes a Student Wellness Grant Program in NJDOE. This bill directs the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Children and Families, to establish the student wellness grant program.  The purpose of the program will be to provide grants that support school districts in implementing school-based programs and practices that promote mental wellness, social and emotional learning, and student resilience. NJSBA supports the bill.

Youth Services Program Grants  A-4435/S-2717 requires the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to give priority to school districts with student mental health counseling centers in awarding grants under the School Based Youth Services Program. NJSBA supports the bill.

Alleviating Learning Loss  A-5147/S-3479 establishes the Alleviating Learning Loss in New Jersey Grant Program in NJDOE to assist public schools to establish or expand educational programs that address learning loss in students.  The purpose of the grant program is to provide funds to school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools for the creation or expansion of summer learning programs and other student support programs during the summer of 2021 and the 2021-2022 school year.  The programs are to address student learning loss resulting from the COVID-related school closures or the use of virtual or remote instruction. NJSBA supports this measure.

Suicide Prevention Training  S-1025 requires additional school district personnel to complete a training program on suicide prevention. Under current law, public school teaching staff members receive instruction in suicide prevention as part of their professional development requirements. This bill provides that a school district employee who is not subject to the current professional development requirement, and an employee of a contracted service provider who has regular contact with students as determined by the board of education, be required to complete a one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness, and response developed by the NJDOE. In addition, each school district and contracted service provider is to annually provide its employees with an educational fact sheet and guidelines on the school district’s reporting and suicide prevention, awareness, and response protocols. NJSBA supports the measure.

Remote Instruction Training  S-3469 requires teacher certification candidates to have completed a course on virtual or remote education. The course will include:

  • revising curriculum for an online platform;
  • the most effective tools available for content delivery;
  • creating opportunities for student engagement and discussion;
  • building and sustaining community and connection with, and among, students; and
  • delivering assessments online and monitoring academic progress.

NJDOE would approve the course content. NJSBA supports this bill.

Required Summer School  S-3531 requires all school districts to develop and implement a summer school program for the summers of 2021 and 2022. NJDOE would develop and disseminate guidelines governing summer school programs. The program would be open to all students attending grades K-12 in the upcoming school year. Parents/guardians wishing to enroll their children in the program would need to submit a written request within 45 days of the start of the summer program. School districts unable or unwilling to provide a summer program can contract with other districts to provide such services or request a waiver from NJDOE.

NJSBA opposes the bill on two principles. First, the bill would usurp and undermine local board of education’s discretion to determine what and to whom the district should provide summer services. Second, the timing of enacting such a requirement so close to the summer would leave districts little to no time to comply.

A copy of NJSBA’s testimony on the bill can be found here.

Amistad Commission Award Program  S-3654 creates the Amistad Commission Exemplary Award Program for teachers and schools that perform exemplary service by providing instruction on slavery and African-American history. Two award recipients would be named annually, one from a kindergarten-eighth grade school and one from a high school, and they would each receive $2,500. Each school district that receives an award would also receive $2,500 to assist other educators to implement the curriculum and teaching techniques used by successful educators.

Establishing Tutor Registry  S-3684 requires the NJDOE to establish a central registry of individuals and organizations interested in providing supplemental tutoring support to students. The registry shall contain information provided by each registrant including, but not limited to, the registrant’s name, contact information, subject matter expertise, and a tutoring availability schedule. The department shall make the registry publicly available on its website.

Hiring Retired Teachers  S-3685 permits a retired school teacher to return to employment during the current public health emergency for up to two years without re-enrollment in the pension system.  According to the sponsor, the goal of this bill is to alleviate the shortage of qualified educators that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Current law has a substantially similar provision to permit retirees to return to work with a board of education in a  pensioned position as a certificated superintendent or administrator for a limited period of time, without re-enrollment in the pension system. Longstanding NJSBA policy holds to the belief that school districts should have the flexibility to secure qualified staff for vacancies, including the hiring of retirees, particularly when attempting to fill positions of critical need. Therefore, NJSBA supports the measure.

Summer Earn and Learn  S-3725 establishes the Summer Earn and Learn Pilot Program. The program would run for two years and is modeled on programs adopted in D.C. and Baltimore Public Schools. NJDOE would establish partnerships with private and government agencies to assist students in obtaining employment opportunities, including tutoring. As much as possible, the program would be funded by federal aid provided to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. NJSBA supports the bill.