On Monday, Oct. 29 both the state Senate and General Assembly returned to the State House and held voting sessions. Below is rundown of the day’s activity and a summary of any approved bills that impact New Jersey’s public school districts and students.

Bills Passed Both Houses and Sent to Governor (Monday, Oct. 29)

The following bills have now passed both houses of the Legislature and are on sitting on the governor’s desk:

Exempting School Buses from Gas Tax S-1697/A-128 exempts fuel used for the operation of school buses from the state’s fuel taxes. Under the bill, the exemption from the tax applies to fuel that is used for school buses operated for the transportation of pupils to or from school or a school-sponsored activity or event by a religious or other charitable organization or corporation. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Electronic Procurement A-3112/S-1599 authorizes local units of government, including boards of education, to use electronic procurement technologies. The bill would authorize electronic procurement for the purchase of electric and gas services and for the sale of surplus and personal property. The NJSBA believes that boards should be able to take advantage of electronic procurement technology and practices that result in streamlined purchasing procedures and more efficient use of taxpayer funds. Therefore, the Association, along with its local government partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and the N.J. Association of Counties, strongly supports this legislation.

Student ID Cards and Passenger Lists A-4342/S-2855 would require K-12 public school students to carry identification cards at school-sponsored, off-campus activities and would require principals to keep lists of students on school buses used for school-sponsored activities in case of emergencies.  While supportive of the goal to keep kids safe, NJSBA sought amendments related to implementation of the bill. Amendments sought included changing the effective date of the bill to give districts the time they would need to comply and clarifying that the cards and lists are not accessible public records. Amendments obtained by the NJSBA gave flexibility to districts concerning whether students would be required to carry IDs while participating in athletic and other extracurricular activities.

Driver and Bus Aide Education  A-4345/S-2853 would codify into law existing State Board of Education regulations concerning the safety education program that is currently required of all permanent and substitute school bus drivers and school bus aides.  The bill requires the program to be provided twice per calendar year; existing regulations do not specify the frequency with which the program is to be administered. NJSBA supports the bill.

Complying with Federal Safety Regulations A-4339/S-2852 requires school bus operations in New Jersey to comply with a host of federal regulations concerning civil rights requirements, noise emissions, certain federal programs, registration and insurance, drug testing, safety fitness procedures, and various safety requirements. According to the bill’s sponsor, school bus operations are already complying with these regulations, so the legislation is codifying common practice.

Removing Suspended Drivers from the Road S-2850/A-4344 would require a board of education or school bus contractor to provide the NJDOE with a statement, within one business day of receiving notification of a bus driver’s license suspension or revocation, verifying that the school bus driver no longer operates a school bus for the board or contractor. Under current law, the NJDOE is notified by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission if a school bus driver has his or her driving privileges suspended or revoked. The NJDOE then provides this information to the appropriate board of education or school bus contractor that employs the driver.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Ensuring Bus Driver Fitness S-2848/A-4346 would require a school bus driver renewing, or an applicant seeking, either a passenger (“P”) endorsement or school bus (“S”) endorsement for his or her commercial driver license (CDL) to submit proof of physical fitness upon license renewal or initial application. Such proof of physical fitness would be in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  In addition, the legislation would require additional and more frequent medical examinations for drivers once they reach the ages of 70 (annually) and 75 (every six months).  Lastly, the bill would require that all drivers of buses or any other vehicles used for student transportation submit to a medical exam that includes hearing and visual acuity tests.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Dual Enrollment Study Commission  S-870/A-3636 establishes a “Dual Enrollment Study Commission” for the purpose of developing a statewide framework for the future implementation of an expanded dual-enrollment program. Through the program, all college-ready high school students will be eligible to enroll in up to 15 college credits at a partnering institution of higher education while still enrolled in high school. The commission will study a myriad of issues related to the implementation of an expanded dual enrollment program such as program and tuition costs, transportation services, and course rigor. The study commission will include a representative of the NJSBA, as well as other stakeholders in the K-12 and higher education communities. Upon the completion of its work, the commission will issue a framework to assist in the implementation of an expanded statewide dual-enrollment program. NJSBA supports the legislation.

General Assembly Voting Session (Monday, Oct. 29)

Temperature Control in Schools  A-665 would require each board of education to adopt a policy establishing temperature control standards and guidelines for school district facilities.  The policy must ensure, to the greatest extent feasible, that school buildings provide students with a temperature-controlled environment that is conducive to learning.  The bill directs the Department of Education and the Department of Health to jointly develop guidance to assist school districts in establishing and implementing a policy concerning temperature control. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Suspending School Bus Endorsements S-2914/A-4447 would require the chief administrator of the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission to suspend the school bus (“S”) endorsement on a person’s driver’s license for 90 days if the person is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points while operating a commercial or non-commercial motor vehicle.  Prior to reinstating the school bus endorsement that would be suspended under provisions of the bill, the person would be required to complete a defensive driving course.  NJSBA supports the bill. The measure now returns to the Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.

Session Voting Session (Monday, Oct. 29)

Transportation Supervisor Certification A-2436/S-2755 would require school district transportation supervisors to complete the School Transportation Supervisors Certification Program offered by Rutgers University or an alternate certification program designated by the commissioner of education. NJSBA supports the bill. The measure now returns to the Assembly, which passed an earlier version of the bill, to concur with amendments made by the Senate.

School Bus Safety Study A-4224/S-2754 would direct the education commissioner to study school bus accidents to see how safety could be improved. The impact of various safety technologies that could be installed in school buses, such as speed restrictors, automatic braking, and electronic stability control would be assessed. Qualifications of school bus drivers would be studied. The analysis would include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety, the oversight of school bus operations, and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts. It would be performed in consultation with the State Police, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  NJSBA supports the legislation. The measure now returns to the General Assembly which passed an earlier version of A-4224 that was later amended in the Senate.

Reporting Driver Misconduct S-1773 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 for which the school bus provides transportation. 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; c) the time period during which a board of education may act to respond to a complaint. NJSBA supports the bill.

Bus Safety Managers and Driver Improvement Supervisors S-2851 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.” The bill directs the chief administrator of the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission to adopt regulations stipulating the qualifications necessary to hold the positions. The measure explicitly stipulates that the safety manager and supervisor positions may be filled by current employees who meet the qualifications established by the NJMVC. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Teacher Loan Redemption Program S-1831 would establish a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) to allow a teacher to redeem a portion of his NJCLASS loan amounts for service as a teacher in a high-need field in a “chronically failing school.” NJSBA supports the bill and believes that incentives, such as grants and loans, should be made available to attract outstanding students to the teaching profession, particularly in those areas of critical shortage. The Association also believes that loans to students who agree to teach a certain number of years in areas of critical shortage should be forgiven.

Enrolling Immigrant Students S-2980 states that a school district may not condition student enrollment in a district on the fact that the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) does not have name or address of parent or guardian on file. Under current law, in the case of a dispute between a school district and a parent or guardian in regard to a student’s right to enroll or remain enrolled in the district based on domicile in the district, the school district may request from the NJMVC the parent or guardian’s name and address for use in verifying the student’s eligibility for enrollment.  The law stipulates that a school district may not condition enrollment in the district on immigration status.  NJSBA supports the bill.

A related bill, S-2982, would clarify that a child may not be excluded from public school based on membership in protected category under the “Law Against Discrimination” or immigration status. NJSBA supports the bill.

The following education-related measures also received committee approval in recent weeks:

Assembly Education Committee (Thursday, Oct. 18th)

Special Education Resources Website A-1525 would require the Department of Education to establish a comprehensive searchable website concerning educational programs and resources available to special education students.  NJSBA supports the bill, which has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Post-Concussion Evaluations and Return to Play A-1837 would require public school students with a concussion to be evaluated by licensed health care professionals before returning to school. The bill also requires school districts to provide restrictions or limitations to student as needed. NJSBA supports the bill.

A related measure, A-2655, would allow licensed health care providers, other than physicians, who are trained in the evaluation and management of concussions to provide written clearance for student-athlete return to physical activity. Current law only allows physicians to provide written clearance for a student to return to play. This bill would expand that right to other health care providers. NJSBA supports the bill.

Deaf Education Working Group A-1893 would establish a Working Group on Deaf Education and directs the NJDOE to develop a parent resource guide and select early intervention assessments for use in identifying language delays in deaf and hard of hearing children. NJSBA supports the bill, which now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights” A-1896 would establish a “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights” and would require school districts to recognize the rights of students who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind by providing additional services such as full support services provided by qualified and certified professionals in their educational settings. Additionally, the bill would require districts to provide these students full communication access to all programs in their educational settings, information to families from appropriately qualified and certified professionals on the medical, ethical, cultural, and linguistic issues of the deaf community, access to mental health services and supporting services from qualified and certified providers fluent in American Sign Language, and access to mental health services and supporting services from qualified and certified providers in the language spoken by the child. The bill would also require the Department of Education to work with school districts to ensure that technical assistance is available to support boards of education in meeting these needs of these students. While supportive of the intent of the bill, the NJSBA sought clarifying language that these rights were within the context of current federal and state law so as to not create additional financial and administrative burdens on school districts when providing special education services.  NJSBA also sought a 30-day delay in the effective date of the bill to give districts the time needed to meet these requirements.  The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Assembly Judiciary Committee (Thursday, Oct. 18)

Criminalizing Sex Between Employees and Adult Students A-1909 would explicitly criminalize sexual activity between school employees and students between the ages of 18 and 20. 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.  The legislation applies to teaching staff members or substitute teachers, school bus drivers, other school employees, contracted service providers, or volunteers who have disciplinary or supervisory power over the victim.  Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to ten years, or a fine of up to $15,000, or both.  The NJSBA supports the measure.

Senate Education Committee (Thursday, Oct. 18)

Sexual Abuse and Assault Awareness A-769/S-1130 would require each school district to incorporate age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in grades preschool through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The bill directs the commissioner of education, in consultation with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, and other entities with relevant expertise, to develop age-appropriate sample learning activities and resources. The commissioner would provide these materials to school districts to implement this requirement. The bill also provides that a teaching staff member may satisfy in each professional development cycle one or more hours of the professional development requirement established by the State Board of Education through participation in training programs on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention.

Financial Literacy Education A-1414/S-1592 would require financial literacy instruction to pupils enrolled in grades six through eight. The instruction must meet the requirements established by the State Board of Education, reflect the age and comprehension of the students enrolled in the particular grade level and include content on budgeting, savings, credit, debt, insurance, investment and other issues associated with personal financial responsibility as determined by the State Board. NJSBA supports this bill.

Child Trafficking Awareness A-1428/S-2653 would establish a “Child Trafficking Awareness Pilot Program” in the N.J. Department of Education to train school district staff about warning signs and how to prevent child trafficking. NJSBA supports the legislation which has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

Sexual Consent Instruction A-2190/S-3108 would require a school district to incorporate instruction in grades six through 12 on the law and meaning of consent for physical contact and sexual activity as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The instruction is to be designed to increase discussion and awareness that consent is required before physical contact or sexual activity, as well as the social, emotional, and relational impact surrounding sexuality, the right to say no to unwanted physical contact or sexual activity, and the virtues of respecting the right of others to say no.

STEM Grant Program S-688 would establish a four-year “New Jersey Early Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program” in the New Jersey Department of Education to fund non-traditional Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs for students in grades kindergarten through 8.  NJSBA supports the bill, which has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Transporting Students to MAST School 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 students resides outside of Monmouth County and more than 40 miles from the academy. The bill heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Sunscreen Policies S-1803 would require school districts to adopt a policy concerning a student’s use of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, such as hats and sunglasses, while outdoors at school and school-sponsored functions. NJSBA supports the bill.

Depression Screenings S-2835 would require public schools to administer annual written screenings for depression for students in grades seven through 12. NJSBA supports the intent and the initiative to prevent any tragedies that could occur with students suffering from depression. As the goal of this legislation is to prevent students from hurting themselves or others, NJSBA supports the bill’s overall intent, but has raised some concerns.  Because there are so many questions and details that need to be worked out in the legislation, NJSBA recommends that a state task force be put in place before moving this bill forward. NJSBA believes that forming a state task force would clarify the questions surrounding this initiative. The bill will be heard by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before it can be posted for a floor vote.

“Inclusive” Textbooks  S-2978 would require the New Jersey Department of Education to maintain a list of textbook vendors that use inclusive material and for school districts to use textbooks from those vendors. NJSBA supports the bill’s intent, but has requested an amendment that would encourage, rather than require, school districts to use the NJDOE-approved list.

Promoting Learning Disability Awareness SJR-29 would designate the month of October of each year as “Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.” NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee (Monday, Oct. 22)

School Meal Contracts A-4595 would allow a school food authority to pursue a request for proposal from a food service management company for the provision of school meals under the federal School Breakfast Program or the National School Lunch Program through a cost reimbursable contract or a fixed price contract. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee (Monday, Oct. 22)

Limiting Mold Exposure  A-1433 would require the state to establish procedures for inspection and abatement of mold hazards in residential and school buildings as well as certification of mold inspectors and abatement workers. NJSBA supports the bill.