On the first day of school for many of New Jersey’s public school students, Governor Christie held a press conference at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the borough of Caldwell. Dubbed a “Back to School Bill Signing” event, he used the occasion to announce the enactment of several pieces of legislation that will impact New Jersey school districts and students. A rundown of the new laws, along with one conditional veto, follows:

Suspensions, Expulsions for Young Students Now Limited  S-2081/A-3790 limits expulsions and suspensions for students in preschool through grade two in a school district or charter school. Previous law outlined the types of conduct that may constitute good cause for the suspension or expulsion of a student from public school. The new law will limit those expulsions and suspensions for students enrolled in preschool through second grade. Under the bill as enacted, students in preschool through second grade may not be expelled from school, except as provided pursuant to the “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act.” The new law also prohibits out-of-school suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade, except when the suspension is based on conduct that is of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others. In addition, the bill prohibits all suspensions for preschool students. NJSBA supported the legislation, which takes effect at the beginning of the next school year.

NJDOE to Review Substance Abuse Curriculum  A-2292/S-372 requires the Department of Education to conduct a review of the Core Curriculum Content Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education to ensure that guidance for substance abuse instruction incorporates the most recent evidence-based standards and practices. This bill goes into effect immediately, and the department shall issue a report on the review within 120 days of enactment, which shall include any proposed revisions to the standards. NJSBA supported the bill.

“RTI” Initiative Gets the Go-Ahead A-2566/S-496 directs the commissioner of education to develop and establish an initiative to support and encourage the use of a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework by school districts to promote the achievement of all students. The legislation requires the commissioner to ensure that an RTI framework implemented by a school district includes, at a minimum, certain elements that are commonly recognized as core components of any RTI model. These elements include: (1) high quality research-based instruction in the general education setting; (2) universal screening procedures to identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes or behavioral challenges; (3) multiple levels of evidence-based interventions that are progressively more intense, based on the student’s responsiveness; and (4) continuous monitoring of student progress. Finally, the bill requires the commissioner to make technical assistance and training available to assist school districts in implementing an RTI framework. NJSBA supported the measure, which goes into effect immediately.

Nonpublic Security Aid Made Permanent A-2689/S-754, known as the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” establishes a state aid program for security services, equipment or technology to ensure a safe and secure school environment for nonpublic school students. This bill would codify into law an allocation for non-public security aid allocation, which has been appropriated through language in the State Appropriations Acts for fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2017. NJSBA opposed the legislation as the Association believes it will divert already scarce public resources to private schools. Additionally, this legislation would unduly burden certain school districts with bureaucratic responsibilities and any associated liabilities simply because private schools operate within their borders. Although NJSBA opposed the measure, the Association was able to have the bill amended to shield the public school district from any legal liability that may arise should the security services, equipment or technology prove faulty.

School Security Officer Bill Conditionally Vetoed  The governor returned one school-related bill to the Legislature with recommended changes. S-86/A-3629 seeks to establish “Class Three” special law enforcement officers to provide security in public and nonpublic schools and county colleges. Such officers would be authorized to provide security at a school while they are on school premises during hours when the school is normally in session or when it is occupied by students or their teachers. To be eligible to serve in this capacity, Class Three SLEOs (special law enforcement officers) would be required to:

  • Be retired police officers less than 65 years old;
  • Have served as duly qualified, fully-trained, full-time municipal or county police officers, or as members of the State Police;
  • Be separated from that prior service in good standing within three years of appointment as a Class Three SLEO (or within five years during the first year following the bill’s enactment);
  • Be physically capable of performing the functions of the position;
  • Possess N.J. Police Training Commission Basic Police Officer Certification or N.J. State Police Academy Certification; and
  • Be hired in a part-time capacity.

The NJSBA supports the concept of this legislation. In its October 2014 final report, the NJSBA’s School Security Task Force recommended that the state establish a new category of SLEOs to provide security in schools. And in July 2015, the final report of the “New Jersey School Security Task Force,” which was established through legislation in 2013, included a similar recommendation. However, while generally supportive of the measure, the NJSBA expressed concerns with an amendment adopted by the committee that removed the requirement that Class Three SLEOs complete a school resource officer (SRO) training course. Such a requirement would ensure they are appropriately equipped to work with students and deal with school climate issues.

Evidently, the governor concurs with the NJSBA’s position. Through his conditional veto authority, the governor returned the bill to the Legislature with a recommendation that all Class Three SLEOs be required to complete an SRO training program. In his veto statement, the governor indicated that “it is vital to ensure that the officer is integrated into the unique setting of a school community and is properly trained to function not only as a safety expert and law enforcer, but also as a liaison to community resources, educators, and counselors.” The Legislature may now accept or override the governor’s recommendations before returning it to his desk.