The policy experts at New Jersey School Boards Association field questions from board members, charter school trustees and school administrators every day. Below are some of the more interesting queries they have answered recently.

Should a school district prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices in school buildings and on school grounds?

A school district is required to prohibit smoking on school grounds and smoking includes the use of electronic smoking devices. For those not familiar with electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes, as they are sometimes called), they are battery-operated products that are designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. They turn chemicals, including nicotine, into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user.

Clever marketing and packaging of electronic smoking devices leaves the consumer believing that e-cigarettes and the vapor they produce are safer than tobacco smoke. Currently, the federal Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to regulate e-cigarettes. However, the agency has issued a proposed rule that would extend the FDA’s tobacco authority to cover additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product.

The vapor produced by e-cigarettes may expose both the user and other people in the vicinity to health risks. Whether or not the vapor proves to be safer than tobacco smoke, as studies are conducted down the line, it is well-established fact that nicotine is poisonous and addictive.

It is alarming that studies by the Center for Disease Control indicate that the use of electronic smoking devices is increasing in middle and secondary schools. Their use may be increasing but smoking is prohibited in any area of any building of, or on the grounds of, any public or nonpublic elementary or secondary school. The New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act (N.J.S.A. 26:3D-55 et seq.) defines “smoking” as the burning of, inhaling from, exhaling the smoke from, or the possession of a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or any other matter or substance which contains tobacco or any other matter that can be smoked, or the inhaling or exhaling of smoke or vapor from an electronic smoking device.

New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 2A:170-51.4) also prohibits any person from directly or indirectly distributing, selling, giving, or furnishing to a person under 19 years old, any cigarette, cigarette paper, or tobacco in any form, including smokeless tobacco, and electronic smoking devices (e.g. electronic cigarettes) either from a vending machine or by retail counter sales.

What is required to be in a district policy on electronic communication between school staff and students?

P.L.2014, c.2, signed into law April 24, 2014, requires that school districts adopt a written policy concerning electronic communications between school employees and students enrolled in the district.  The policy must be adopted within 120 days of the effective date of the act, making the deadline Aug. 23, 2014.

The law does not prescribe the exact rules that the policy must contain and instead gives general guidance: “The policy shall include, at a minimum, provisions designed to prevent improper communications between school employees and students made via e-mail, cellular phones, social networking websites, and other Internet-based social media.”

The rules and guidelines assembled and presented in the NJSBA model policy are based on case law where inappropriate conduct related to staff electronic communications with students was affirmed in tenure and other court proceedings.

However the law gives districts the flexibility to adopt the standards and rules that uniquely apply to the district. The model policy, while mandated, is also flexible and should be evaluated and customized to apply to the district’s own circumstances. In tailoring the model, a district can consider developing specific guidelines for staff assignments and responsibilities for oversight and monitoring, clear rules for the appropriate use of school-owned-and-distributed devices, guidelines uniquely appropriate to the age of the students, and rules that are related to problems a district may encounter.

What are the policy considerations for articulating technology throughout the educational program?

Most districts are evaluating how prepared they will be for the administration of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment.

New Jersey’s vision for creating cutting edge 21st century classrooms goes far beyond the administration of a standardized test. The New Jersey Department of Education supports the integration of technology in the classroom to facilitate student achievement in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Teaching strategies for student achievement of the CCSS depend on the consistent application of technology in the classroom and exposure to Internet resources. Practice with computer hardware and software and access to the educational benefits of the Internet prepare the students with the critical thinking skills and competency in the use of the tools necessary for success in the future job market.

Teacher evaluation is linked to student achievement in the CCSS through outcomes measured in the PARCC assessments. To integrate technology in the educational program, staff may require professional development and training in teaching strategies that use technology and the Internet.

Greater use of devices in the classroom also means that the district must devote resources to providing the adequate infrastructure (bandwidth) as well as providing access to devices for both staff and students. Districts frequently inquire about sample policies for BYOD (bring your own device) and guidelines for school-furnished computer devices.

Integration of technology in the educational program is a multidisciplinary endeavor that includes staff training and development, teacher evaluation, curriculum selection, equipment, financial resources and sound technological guidance. Assembling a committee that includes representation from each of the stakeholders is one way to develop and monitor the district’s short and long term technology plan.

There are sample policy resources available to help your district develop guidelines for one or all of the program initiatives. Policy development should be clear, workable, and legal and reflect only those programs and initiatives that the district feels confident of accomplishing. New policies and particularly discretionary policies that are developed from other district samples should be modified to reflect the unique circumstances of your district. On these pages is a sample policy on technology in school operations.

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