On Thursday, Sept. 29, the Senate Education Committee met for the first time since June to consider various pieces of legislation that would impact public schools. Various other committees also met to consider education-related bills, including the Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee; the Senate Labor Committee; the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee; and the Senate Transportation Committee.

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee approved the following measures:

Menstrual Toxic Shock Syndrome Education S-636 would require, beginning in the first full school year following signature of the bill, that each school district incorporate instruction on menstrual toxic shock syndrome in grades 4 to 12 as part of the district’s Comprehensive Health and Physical Education curriculum. That instruction would be required to include information on the causes and symptoms of the syndrome, and the ways in which a student may reduce the risk for developing it. The bill would require the New Jersey Department of Education to provide age-appropriate sample learning activities and resources to support implementation of this requirement. The bill would also require owners of a group A or M occupancy that maintains a restroom that is open to the public and available for use by women, and includes two or more toilets, to install a sign in the restroom regarding the syndrome.

The committee heard testimony from a champion of the bill Dawn Massabni, founder of the nonprofit Maddy Massabni Foundation for Toxic Shock Awareness. She founded the organization in honor of her daughter, Madalyn “Maddy” Massabni, who died of menstrual toxic shock syndrome at 19 years old on March 30, 2017.

The New Jersey School Boards Association testified, offering its sympathies and condolences to the Massabni family. Recognizing the importance of building awareness of menstrual toxic shock syndrome, NJSBA offered an alternative approach that would preserve the bill’s spirit and intent while avoiding a new instructional requirement: that school districts be required to annually provide an educational fact sheet regarding menstrual toxic shock syndrome. The committee, however, voted to approve the bill with its instructional requirement in place. It heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

“Specific Learning Disability” Determinations S-2256 would modify the state’s criteria for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by:

  • Prohibiting use of the “severe discrepancy” model.
  • Permitting the use of a response to intervention model and other alternative research-based procedures, such as patterns of strengths and weaknesses or case studies.
  • Prohibiting a district from using any single procedure as the sole criterion for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability or for determining an appropriate educational program for the student.
  • Requiring a district to ensure that the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive, and, at a minimum, includes an assessment of basic psychological processes to identify all of the student’s special education and related service needs.

The bill’s prohibition against the use of severe discrepancy for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability would be effective July 1, 2024.

The NJSBA testified on the importance of permitting school districts the use of every evaluation tool allowed by IDEA regulations – including severe discrepancy – to meet the needs of all of New Jersey’s special education students. To that end, NJSBA expressed preference for a previous legislative effort regarding classification of specific learning disabilities, S-2526 from the 2018-2019 session. Instead of prohibiting the use of severe discrepancy outright, that bill would have more closely aligned to IDEA regulations by specifying that the criteria for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability shall not require the use of severe discrepancy and shall permit RTI and other research-based procedures. The bill advanced by the committee last week next moves to the Senate floor for further consideration.  A copy of the NJSBA’s testimony on the bill can be found here.

Expanding Medicaid-Funded Health Services S-2416 would expand the state’s Medicaid-funded school-based health services by requiring reimbursement to districts for covered behavioral health services, delivered in-person or via telehealth, to Medicaid students. Specifically, the bill would make reimbursable covered services:

  • Regardless of whether the student has an IEP, 504 Plan, Individualized Health Care Plan, or Individualized Family Service Plan.
  • Regardless of whether the service is provided at no charge to the student.
  • That are provided by a licensed medical practitioner approved as a Medicaid provider or a local educational agency approved as a Medicaid provider.

To effectuate this expanded program, the bill would require the New Jersey Department of Human Services to apply for any state plan for Medicaid amendments or waivers as are necessary. The bill would go into effect six months following federal approval.

The bill would also focus on the following:

  • Reinvestment of reimbursement payments: Require districts to utilize Medicaid reimbursement payments received under the bill to provide behavioral health services for students and families.
  • Administrative support for districts: Require the NJDHS, Department of the Treasury, and NJDOE to assist districts in submitting Medicaid claims, and ensuring that the submission and reimbursement systems overlaps as much as possible with procedures for the Special Education Medicaid Initiative, or SEMI. Districts would be authorized to enter into an agreement with other districts to contract with a third-party entity to process and submit Medicaid claims for covered behavior health services provided under the bill.
  • Ensure Medicaid remains the payer of last resort: Require districts to take all reasonable measures to pursue claims for reimbursement against legally liable third parties in accordance with federal law.

The NJSBA supports the bill. It heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Allocation of State-Funded Preschool Seats: S-2477 would require a school district receiving preschool education aid to place at least half of its preschool seats at a licensed childcare provider, and the remainder in district programs and Head Start programs. A waiver from these requirements would be available if there are not sufficient preschool seats available at licensed childcare providers in the district. The bill is part of a childcare bill package announced by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz in April 2022.

NJSBA testified in opposition to the bill, citing concern that it would create a mandate for school districts to place the majority of its preschool seats in private providers even if the district has the means to provide those seats through in-district programs. The sponsor of the bill, Ruiz, has indicated that she will continue to work with NJSBA and other organizations to address this concern. The bill heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Community Schools Pilot Program S-2771 would establish a five-year “Community Schools Pilot Program” in the NJDOE to facilitate the establishment of community schools. As defined in the bill, community schools are “partnerships between public schools, nonprofit organizations, and local governments to provide an integrated focus on academics, health, and social services, youth and community development, expanded learning time and opportunities, actively engage families, and foster collaborative practices based on an individual community’s identified need.”

The bill would require NJDOE to issue a request for proposals to identify a qualified New Jersey nonprofit organization to manage the pilot. That organization would develop the application procedure and selection criteria for interested schools. A maximum of 50 schools may be selected for participation (the bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-1168, was amended Sept. 22 to shrink the program to 21 schools, a maximum of one per county). Selection criteria may give higher priority if the school would be the first in its district to participate in the program, and lower priority if the school is currently receiving federal funds to operate a community school.

Selected schools would be assigned a site coordinator (an employee of the nonprofit managing the program) to provide direct support in the establishment and operations of the community school, as well as technical assistance. The nonprofit would also make group training sessions and information about community schools available for all school districts that express interest in developing a community school, regardless of participation in the pilot.

The bill would also require the NJDOE to:

  • Survey school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools to assess the extent to which community schools have been established.
  • Establish an inventory of community schools, to be updated annually.
  • Enter into a contract with an independent entity to evaluate the program; the entity would issue a final report on the implementation of the program.
  • Annually enter into a contract with an independent entity to audit the nonprofit organization’s accounts and financial transactions.

To finance the program, the bill would establish a “Community Schools Pilot Program Fund” consisting of any funds appropriated by the state Legislature for inclusion in the fund, investment earnings of the funds and monies contributed to the fund by private sources.

NJSBA supports the bill and has long held to the belief that there should be collaborative partnerships between home, community, social service agencies and the schools to provide quality educational opportunities for all children. The bill next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. Its Assembly counterpart, A-1168, was approved by the Assembly Education Committee on Sept. 22, and awaits further action by the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee.

Apprenticeship Reporting S-2874 would require the NJDOE’s School Performance Reports to include “the number of students achieving placement following graduation, including placement in an apprenticeship.” NJSBA supports the bill, recognizing the importance of diverse, high-quality postsecondary options for students, and that the NJDOE already reports on the number of students enrolled in United States Department of Labor registered apprenticeship programs in New Jersey after high school graduation. The bill heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Use of Seclusion on Students with Disabilities S-3027 would amend New Jersey’s current law governing use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities by requiring school districts to immediately notify the parent or guardian when a seclusion technique is used on a student, and to provide a written report to the parent/guardian within 48 hours.

The bill would further require NJDOE to annually collect and publish data from school districts on the number and times a physical restraint or a seclusion technique was utilized on a student with disabilities. The data collection would be required to include:

  • The type and duration of the physical restraint or seclusion technique.
  • The number of students with disabilities on which a physical restraint or seclusion technique was used.
  • The number of students who have been excluded from school and required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive clearance to return to school.

NJSBA supports the bill. It heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee

Compostable Food Waste A-4548 would authorize a school to deliver its compostable or anaerobically digestible food waste to another school in the state, provided that the receiving school accepts the food waste and composts or digests the food waste using an on-site composting or anaerobic digestion system. NJSBA supports the bill, which now moves to the Assembly floor for further consideration.

Senate Transportation Committee

Electric School Bus Funding S-3044 would provide a supplemental fiscal year 2023 appropriation of $15 million to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to support year one of the three-year Electric School Bus Program. That program was established by legislation, P.L.2022, c.86, approved by the Legislature in June and signed into law by Murphy in August. The NJSBA supports the bill, which heads to the Senate floor for further consideration. For additional information on the Electric School Bus Program, see the Aug. 9, 2022, School Board Notes article.

Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee

Police in School Polling Places S-2912/A-2131 would amend the current law that limits the presence of police officers at polling places, including school polling places. The bill would authorize police departments to assign plainclothes officers to a school polling place. A school would have to request that a police officer be assigned and notify its district board of election of its request at least seven days before the election.

The bill would further require that, beginning after Jan. 1, 2023, each school serving as a polling place develop a security plan to prevent voters from having access to students that the polling place includes. The plan must include a designated voting area that must be locked and separate from the rest of the school if it is in session during the time an election is being held. Under the bill as amended, that requirement will only apply if the school “has the ability to fulfill the mandate.” NJSBA supported the bill as referred to committee and is reviewing the amendments adopted last week. The bill may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If passed, it must return to the Senate, which approved a previous version of the bill in June 2022.