On Monday, Gov. Chris Christie signed three education-related bills into law, including one that that requires aspiring board of education members to affirm that they have a clean criminal background prior to running for office.

Under current law, a person is disqualified from membership on a board of education or a charter school board of trustees if the person has been convicted of certain crimes or offenses. Examples include any crime of the first or second degree; endangering the welfare of a child; drug possession or distribution; robbery; burglary; aggravated assault; stalking; kidnapping; arson; manslaughter and murder; terroristic threats; criminal restraint; perjury, bias intimidation. A member must, within 30 days of election or appointment, undergo a criminal background check for the purpose of ensuring that the member is not disqualified. In addition, the law requires a member of a board of education, before entering into the duties of the office, to take an oath that must include a specific declaration that the member is not disqualified from holding office due to a conviction of one of the disqualifying crimes or offenses. A member who falsely swears or affirms that he or she is not disqualified due to a conviction is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. However, the law does not require a member to undergo a criminal background check until after they are elected.

The bill signed by the governor this week (A-4206/S-2676) requires a school board candidate to file with his or her nominating petition a specific affirmation that he or she has not been convicted of any of the crimes that disqualify an individual from membership on a board of education or a charter school board of trustees. According to its sponsors, the bill was inspired by a situation in which an individual attempted to run for school board after previously serving six months in a federal prison for a crime that would have disqualified him from holding office.

NJSBA supported the measure, which goes into effect on July 1, 2018.

The governor also approved the following NJSBA-supported bills, both of which take effect immediately:

Reducing School Food Waste A-3056/S-2360 requires the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to establish voluntary guidelines for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. The guidelines will include: (1) information on food waste generally and the benefits of reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste; (2) recommendations for how schools can incorporate this information into their curricula and create programs and activities for the reduction, recovery, and recycling of food waste; (3) recommendations for how schools can reduce the volume of surplus food they generate; (4) guidance on how schools can create “share tables” in their cafeterias; (5) information on cost-effective, safe, and sanitary means by which schools may donate excess, unused, and edible food to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to needy individuals; and (6) information on how schools can recycle their food waste. The NJDEP, the state Department of Education, and the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education will post the guidelines on their respective websites. The legislation also amends the “Food Bank Good Samaritan Act” to extend legal immunity to public and nonpublic schools that donate food that appears to be fit for human consumption at the time it is donated to a nonprofit organization. NJSBA supports the new law as it encourages, rather than mandates, school districts to follow the food waste guidelines.

Farm to School Coordinating Council  A-3058/S-2366 establishes the “Farm to School Coordinating Council.” The council will consist of five members as follows: the N.J. Secretary of Agriculture, the N.J. Commissioner of Education, and three members of the public who have experience working with the New Jersey Farm to School Program. The council will:

  • Examine all areas of the New Jersey Farm to School Program and identify any outstanding issues or problems that need to be resolved and areas in need of improvement;
  • Focus on the procurement process relating to the purchase of agricultural products by schools from New Jersey farmers, and recommend ways to increase the participation of both farmers and schools in the program; and
  • Recommend ways to promote and increase the use of fresh farm foods at schools throughout the state.

Within one year of its first meeting, the council will issue a report to the governor and Legislature with its findings, conclusions and recommendations.