On Nov. 18, the Assembly Education Committee voted to approve the release of six bills concerning school meal programs.
A-4856 The “Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act” requires certain school meal information be provided to students’ parents; establishes protocols for identifying eligible students for meal programs and prohibits stigmatizing students with bills in arrears. Under the provisions of the bill, a school district is not permitted to publicly identify or stigmatize a student who cannot pay for a school meal, for example, by requiring that the student sit at a separate table or wear a wristband, hand stamp, or identifying mark or by serving the student an alternative meal. A district is not permitted to require a student who cannot pay for a school meal to do chores or other work to pay for the school meal or to require a student to discard a school meal after it has been served because of the student’s inability to pay or because money is owed for previously provided school meals.
A protocol must be established to be used when a student owes money for the equivalent of five or more school meals. The protocol is designed to help school districts identify students who would be eligible for free or reduced-price meals and offer the parents of students assistance in applying for the programs. At the beginning of each school year, and upon initial enrollment in the case of a student enrolling during the school year, a school district must provide to the parent or guardian of each student: information on the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program; an application to apply for the school lunch and school breakfast programs and instructions for completing the application; and information on the rights of students under the provisions of this bill.
Finally, a school district liaison for the education of homeless children must coordinate with school district personnel to ensure that a homeless student receives free school meals and is monitored according to the school district’s policies. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-5901 clarifies that a school district is not required to restrict access to school meals if school meal bill is in arrears. The purpose of this bill is to clarify that nothing in this section of law requires a school district to deny school breakfast or school lunch to a student whose bill is in arrears, but rather to provide adequate notice and opportunity to the student’s parent or guardian if the district determines to take such an action. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-5902 requires school districts to take certain actions to increase participation in free or reduced-price meal programs; prohibits shaming students with school meal bills in arrears; prohibits certain district actions in collecting unpaid school meal fees. In the event that a school district determines that a student’s school breakfast or school lunch bill is in arrears, the district shall contact the student’s parent or guardian to provide notice of the arrearage and shall provide the parent or guardian with a period of 10 school days to pay the amount due.
If the student’s parent or guardian has not made full payment by the end of the 10 school days, then the district shall again contact the student’s parent or guardian to provide notice that school breakfast or school lunch, as applicable, shall not be served to the student beginning one week from the date of the second notice unless payment is made in full.
- A school district shall report at least biannually to the Department of Agriculture the number of students who are denied school breakfast or school lunch pursuant to this section.
- Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a school district to deny or restrict access to school breakfast or school lunch to a student whose school breakfast or school lunch bill is in arrears.
- Prior to initially contacting the parent or guardian to provide notice of a school breakfast or school lunch bill in arrears as provided in subsection a. of this section, the school district shall exhaust all options and methods to directly certify the student for a free or reduced-price meal. If the school district is not able to directly certify the student, the school district shall provide the parent or guardian with a paper copy of, or an electronic link to, an application for the free or reduced-price meal program with the notification of the arrearage and contact the parent or guardian to encourage application submission.
- A school district shall ensure that a student whose school breakfast or school lunch bill is in arrears is not shamed, treated differently, forced to go to the end of the food line, or served a meal that differs from what a student whose school breakfast or school lunch bill is not in arrears would receive.
- A school district shall not permit any action directed at a student to collect unpaid school meal fees. A school district may attempt to collect unpaid school meal fees from a parent or guardian, but shall not use a debt collector or threaten to make a child protective services report in regard to the arrearage.
- The bill also clarifies that nothing requires a school district to deny school breakfast or school lunch to a student whose bill is in arrears, but rather to provide adequate notice and opportunity to the student’s parent or guardian if the district determines to take such an action.
- This act shall take effect on the first day of the first full school year following the date of enactment. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-5903 requires school districts to establish a “School Meal Fund” to assist students with school meal bill in arrears. This bill requires school districts to establish a “School Meal Fund” for the purpose of accepting donations to assist students with the purchase of school breakfast or school lunch and to fund any arrears in the school breakfast or school lunch bills of students enrolled in the school district. The fund will be established through the adoption of a resolution by the board of education. The board will also adopt a policy that will ensure the fiscal accountability of the fund and will outline the standards that will be applied in making a determination to disburse moneys from the school meal fund. The fund will be subject to audit as part of the school district’s annual audit required under current law. The bill also directs a board of education to provide, through written and electronic means, information to the parents and guardians of students enrolled in the school district and to other residents of the school district and community organizations on the establishment of the fund, its purposes, and the procedures to be followed to donate to the fund. The information will also be posted in a prominent location on the school district’s internet website.
NJSBA expressed concerns pertaining to this bill stating that the perception of the fund may cause parents who have been delinquent in paying the meal bills to continue to do so when they are made aware of a donation fund paying delinquent bills for students. NJSBA requested that the pending legislation be permissive. NJSBA agrees with the accountability aspect of the fund and it being part of the school district’s annual audit.
A-5855 requires the state to pay difference between federal allocation and total cost of reduced-price breakfast or lunch; appropriates $4.5 million. This bill provides that the state pay for reduced price breakfasts and lunches so that they are served at no cost to eligible students. The bill would require the state to pay the difference between the federal allocation and the total cost of the reduced-price breakfasts or reduced-price lunches served to public school students. The bill also directs the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to adopt regulations establishing the schedule for, and the manner in which, reimbursements would be made to districts, and any other provisions necessary to implement the bill. Finally, the bill appropriates $4.5 million to cover the required payment under the bill. This is the amount estimated by the Department of Agriculture to be the amount needed to make the reimbursements to school districts. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-4062/S-2527 requires the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to promote school meal programs. This bill requires the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Education, to develop promotional material for the “school meal program” and provide every school district with promotional material, which is required to include, but need not be limited to, pamphlets, presentation material, webinars, and sample letters schools may send to parents. NJSBA supports the bill.
On Nov. 18, the Assembly Education also released other legislation affecting New Jersey school districts.
A-4238 establishes a task force to examine school discipline practices including racial disparities and effectiveness. The task force shall consist of the following 10 members:
(1) The commissioner of education, or a designee; and
(2) Nine members appointed by the governor, who shall include: one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey School Boards Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Education Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; one member upon the recommendation of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey; and four members of the public, each of whom has specialized knowledge or expertise in issues related to school discipline practices. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-5238 provides that each board of education of a school district that includes grades nine through 12 shall appoint or elect at a minimum one student, to serve as a nonvoting student representative on the board. The student representative shall serve for a one school year term. NJSBA supports the bill.
Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee
A-4343/S-2851 a school bus safety measure, would require boards of education, as well as contractors that provide pupil transportation services, to designate at least one individual to serve as a “school bus safety manager” or as a “supervisor of driver improvement.” A school bus safety manager’s responsibilities would include: ensuring compliance with state and federal laws regarding school bus safety; providing periodic training in the proper use of emergency equipment; and the dissemination of industry best practices for avoiding accidents. A supervisor of driver improvement’s responsibilities would include providing professional development to school bus drivers and periodically accompanying school bus drivers on their appointed routes. The measure explicitly stipulates that the manager and supervisor positions may be filled by current employees who meet qualifications established by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. Therefore, districts would not be required to employ new staff to meet the bill’s requirement. NJSBA supports the legislation, which has already passed the full Senate.
Senate Judiciary Committee
S-3628 requires institutions of higher education and public and nonpublic high schools and middle schools to adopt anti-hazing policies; expands activities encompassing criminal hazing and upgrades penalties for engaging in these activities. This bill requires institutions of higher education, boards of education of school districts with a high school or middle school, and the governing board or chief school administrator of a nonpublic school with a high school or middle school, to adopt a written anti-hazing policy. The institutions and schools are required to provide a program for the enforcement of the anti-hazing policy and adopt penalties for violations of the policy. The bill provides that the penalties may include the withholding of diplomas or transcripts pending compliance with the rules and the imposition of probation, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion. NJSBA supports the bill.
On Nov. 14, senate legislative committees took action on the following education-related bills:
Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee
AJR29/SJR52 designates May of each year as “Youth Smoking Prevention and Awareness Month.” This joint resolution designates May of each year as “Youth Smoking Prevention and Awareness Month” in New Jersey in order to increase public awareness about the dangers of smoking among youth, including the short-term and long-term health consequences associated with tobacco use, and to encourage efforts supporting smoking prevention and cessation among middle and high school students. The joint resolution requests the governor to issue a proclamation designating May of each year as “Youth Smoking Prevention and Awareness Month” in New Jersey and calling upon public officials and the citizens of the state to observe the month with appropriate activities and programs. NJSBA supports the resolution.
Senate Education Committee
A4147/S2744 requires school districts to conduct an audit of security features of district buildings, grounds, and communication systems using standardized checklist and to submit the audit to the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the NJDOE. These audits will be kept confidential, and would not be deemed public records under the Open Public Records Act and common law. The audits, however, may be used for the purposes of allocating any state grants or loans made available for the purpose of school facility safety and security upgrades. NJSBA supported the bill, which now heads to the full Senate for a floor vote.
S3498/A4978 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 concerns the personally identifiable information of a public school student that is not publicly available and is created or gathered by, or provided to, the operator of an internet website, online service, online computer application, or mobile application that is designed and marketed for K-12 school purposes. NJSBA supported this bill, which now heads to the full Senate for a vote.
S-4115 requires the NJDOE and the New Jersey Division of Children and Families (DCF) to post drinking water lead level test results for school districts and childcare centers on their websites. This bill requires the NJDOE to post, in a prominent location on its website, the water lead level test results of each school facility in each school district. In addition, the bill requires DCF to post on its website the water lead level test results of each childcare center. NJSBA supports the bill.
S-2745/A-4151 requires school security training for persons employed by public and nonpublic schools in a substitute capacity and for employees and volunteers of youth programs operated in school facilities. When the bill was considered in the Assembly, the NJSBA successfully obtained amendments intended to make implementation more practical while ensuring that individuals who have oversight of a classroom or district-approved youth program are provided with important information on how to respond to a security emergency. The measure has already passed the full Assembly. NJSBA supports the bill.
S-4052 establishes a pilot program in the NJDOE for special education students to attend college courses or vocational training programs. Under the pilot program, students, age 16 or older, who are classified as eligible for special education programs and services, as part of the plan of transition services required to be included in the student’s individualized education program (IEP), will attend courses at an institution of higher education or participate in postsecondary vocational training programs while still enrolled in high school. The purpose of the pilot program is to increase the access of students with disabilities to postsecondary opportunities to pursue higher education or career and technical education and to help prepare these students for their desired future goals. Up to 15 school districts from across the state would be selected for participation in the programs. Participation would be voluntary, and school districts will be responsible for any tuition costs. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-4150/S-2742 requires a meeting between a student and appropriate school personnel after multiple suspensions or proposed expulsion from public school to identify behavior or health difficulties. This bill was amended to require that in the event that a student has experienced multiple suspensions or in the event he may be subject to a proposed expulsion, the principal must convene a meeting, as soon as practicable, between the student and a school psychologist, a school counselor, a school social worker, a student assistance coordinator, or a member of the school’s intervention and referral services team. The purpose of the meeting is to identify any behavior or health difficulties experienced by the student and, if appropriate, to provide the student with supportive interventions or referrals to school or community resources that may assist the student in addressing the identified difficulties.
If the student’s immediate removal or suspension from the school’s regular education program is required under certain provisions of current law or in any other instance in which the safety and security of other students or school staff requires the student’s immediate removal from school, the required meeting will take place as soon as practicable following the student’s removal from the school’s regular education program. The provisions of the bill are required to be construed in a manner that is consistent with the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” The bill also directs the New Jersey Department of Education, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Health, to provide school districts with a list of current resources that may be of assistance as referral services for students. The resources may include, but need not be limited to, the New Jersey MentalHealthCares information and referral service, and county or local programs that provide youth services for mental health or substance abuse. The committee amended the bill to eliminate the requirement that only if a school does not have a school psychologist are other school staff permitted to meet with the student and to provide that the State Board of Education may promulgate regulations necessary to effectuate the provisions of the bill. NJSBA supports the bill as amended.
S-4141 “Paul’s Law” authorizes parent or guardian to request use of individualized health care plan for student with epilepsy or seizure disorder. As amended, this bill concerns the care provided to public school students with epilepsy or seizure disorders and is designated as “Paul’s Law.” Under the bill’s provisions, the parents or guardians of a student with epilepsy or a seizure disorder who seek epilepsy or seizure disorder care for that student while at school will inform the school nurse. The school nurse will develop an individualized health care plan and an individualized emergency health care plan for that student provided that the parent or guardian provides annual written authorization for the provision of epilepsy or seizure disorder care at school. The committee amended the bill to clarify that the bill’s provisions also apply to students with epilepsy; to provide that the school nurse train all staff about the care of students with epilepsy and seizure disorders, and that such training will will occur every two years. The amended bill would also allow a New Jersey Department of Education-approved course of instruction to be used to train staff and that the training may be done by an in-person course of instruction. The amendments deleted language that required a nonprofit entity that offered a training program to a school district on portable media, to provide that training free of charge. NJSBA supports the bill as amended.
Senate Commerce Committee
AJR-118 designates April of each year as “Financial Literacy Month” in New Jersey. This joint resolution designates April of each year as “Financial Literacy Month” in New Jersey to improve the understanding of the state’s citizens of critical financial issues such as credit management, savings, debt management, and homeownership, and to significantly increase an individual’s likelihood of financial success. Under the joint resolution, the governor is respectfully requested to annually issue a proclamation recognizing April as “Financial Literacy Month” in New Jersey and calling upon schools, financial institutions, nonprofit financial educational organizations, the citizens of the state, and other interested groups to observe the month with appropriate activities and programs. NJSBA supports the resolution.