On the heels of signing legislation that creates a new category of school security personnel, Gov. Christie on Monday approved two additional measures designed to improve safety and security in New Jersey’s public schools. Both measures are the product of recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force. That body, on which NJSBA President Donald Webster served, issued its final report and recommendations in July 2015. The NJSBA supported both of these new enactments, which also reflect a number of recommendations made by the Association’s own school security task force in 2014.

The first bill, A-3349/S-2428 (P.L.2016, c.80), would implement various task force recommendations related to school security drills. More specifically, the new law, which goes into the effect at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, does the following:

  • Requires that all school district employees will be provided with annual training on school safety and security. (Note: Current law stipulates that such training is only required once of certificated teaching staff members.)
  • Requires a law enforcement officer be present for at least one drill each school year so he or she can make recommendations for improvements or changes.
  • Requires annual training to be conducted collaboratively with emergency responders in order to identify weaknesses in school security policies and procedures, while increasing the effectiveness of emergency responders.
  • Provides that an actual fire or school security emergency will be considered a “drill” for the purposes of meeting the requirements of the School Security Drill Law; and
  • Expands the definition of “school security drill” to include practice procedures for responding to bomb threats.

The second measure, A-3348/S-2439 (P.L.2016, c.79), implements one task force recommendation in regard to the architectural design for new school construction, and another one concerning the “hardening” of school perimeters and building entryways.

With respect to new school construction, a school district shall include in the architectural design of the facility such features as:

  • Wherever possible, a building site with adequate space to accommodate bus and vehicular traffic separately;
  • Separate vehicular drop-off/pick-up areas;
  • Marked school entrances with a uniform numbering system;
  • Keyless locking mechanisms;
  • Access control systems which allow for remote locking and unlocking;
  • Sufficient space for evacuation in the event of an emergency; and
  • Having areas in the school building intended for public use separated and secure from all other areas.

The law also provides that in the case of both new school construction and existing school buildings, a district shall implement various school security standards. School districts will now be required to employ the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles and other security standards. Examples of such standards include, among others, that school security personnel be in uniform; the number of doors for access by school staff be limited; exterior doors remain locked; secure vestibules at the school’s main entrance be created; surveillance cameras be used as a target-hardening tool; and a strict key distribution protocol be developed.

Bill Signed The governor also signed A-1878/S-2404 (P.L.2016, c.76), which increases the amount of permitted annual compensation paid to a Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) retiree re-employed as an athletic coach by a former school district within 180 days of retirement. Legislation signed into law in the 2014-2015 session created an exception to current regulations to allow a retired member of the TPAF to become employed again with the former employer in a position as a coach of an athletics activity if, among other conditions, the compensation for the employment is less than $10,000 per year. This bill increases the amount of annual compensation to less than $15,000 for such retirees. Official NJSBA policy holds that retirees under a New Jersey pension program should be permitted to be employed by a New Jersey public employer up to the maximum earnings allowed under Social Security (currently $15,720), without penalty. The Association, therefore, supported this proposal.

Bill Could Reduce School Bus Driver Shortage In other Monday statehouse activity, the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee released a bill that aims to reduce the backlog of people seeking to obtain a commercial driver license (CDL), which all NJ school bus drivers must possess. More stringent federal CDL regulations that went into effect in 2015 have increased the amount of time it takes for a person to obtain a CDL, which has resulted in some school districts and school bus contractors having a difficult time filling vacant positions.

S-2364/A-3946 establishes a “Commercial Driver License Testing Pilot Program” to provide for CDL testing by private third-party vendors, and requires the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to authorize third-party administration of commercial testing on a more permanent basis based on an evaluation of the program.

Under the program, the MVC is required to appoint three private third party vendors to administer the knowledge and skills tests for CDLs and related endorsements. Of the three selected, one each is to be located in the northern, central, and southern regions of the state. Within nine months of enactment, the MVC Chief Administrator would be required to submit to the governor and the Legislature an evaluation of the program with recommendations that will facilitate the permanent use of third party vendors. Current law already permits, but does not require, the MVC to use third parties for CDL testing purposes. If enacted, this legislation would essentially compel the MVC to make use of that authority.

The intent of the legislation is to reduce the backlog in CDL applications, which could help to increase the pool of qualified school bus drivers across the state. According to the sponsor, New Jersey would become the 40th state in the U.S. to implement third-party CDL testing. NJSBA supports the bill, which has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. S-2364 unanimously passed the Senate last month.

School Bus Camera Legislation Advances On Monday, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously approved legislation explicitly permitting the use of video cameras to crack down on motorists illegally passing school buses.

S-211 authorizes the use of a school bus monitoring system to assist in the enforcement of existing law that prohibits motor vehicles from passing a school bus while it is stopped to pick up or discharge students. Alleged school bus passing violations captured by such a monitoring system would be compiled into an evidence file and forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality. If law enforcement determines that a violation has occurred, a summons is to be issued. The monies from any fines would be used for general municipal and school district purposes, including efforts to improve the monitoring and enforcement of the unlawful passing of a school buses and the provision of public education safety programs. The bill would also increase the fines for violations of the no-passing law. NJSBA supports the legislation, which may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.