The full Senate convened on Feb. 13 for a voting session, advancing a handful of bills that impact local school districts. A summary of those measures and their current status follows below.

Combatting Steroid Abuse A-2353/S-367 establishes measures to deter the use of steroids and performance-enhancing supplements among the state’s middle school and high school students, and implements the recommendations of the December 2005 report of the Governor’s Task Force on Steroid Use and Prevention. The bill appropriates $45,000 to the state Department of Education for New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association testing of student-athletes for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

Under the bill’s provisions, any person who coaches a public school district or non-public school interscholastic sport, dance, or cheerleading team must incorporate into the team’s training activities a gender-specific program designed to reduce the use of steroids and performance-enhancing supplements, alcohol, and drugs; and to promote healthy nutrition and exercise. The program must have a team-centered design that provides a non-stigmatizing atmosphere and includes gender-specific content to address the risks of substance abuse that are unique to male and female adolescents. The program developed by the coach must be submitted to the athletic director of the school district or non-public school for approval.

Additionally, the bill establishes the third week in September as “Steroid Awareness Week” in New Jersey and requires school districts to observe this week by organizing activities to raise awareness of the hazards of using steroids and performance-enhancing supplements. The NJSBA supports the measure, which was sent to the governor’s desk.

Military Uniforms at Graduation  A-4019/S-2491 permits eligible students who are members of United States Armed Forces to wear military uniforms at high school graduation. This bill requires school districts to allow eligible students to wear a dress uniform issued by the United States Armed Forces while participating in their high school graduation ceremony. Under the bill, a student will be permitted to wear a dress uniform at graduation if: (1) the student has fulfilled all state and local requirements for receiving a high school diploma and is otherwise eligible to participate in the high school graduation ceremony; and (2) the student has completed basic training for, and is an active member of, a branch of the United States Armed Forces. This legislation has passed both houses and now awaits the governor’s approval.

Joint Bracketing in School Elections  S-1297 would permit two or more candidates for the office of member of a board of education who seek election at the annual school election held in either April or November of each year to circulate a nominating petition jointly and to be bracketed together for the same term. The bill also permits the inclusion of a short, non-political designation on the petition and the ballot of the principles that the candidate or candidates represent. The Legislature approved similar legislation (A-4386/S-3042) in the 2014-2015 legislative session, but the governor conditionally vetoed that measure. Instead, the governor recommended that the New Jersey Secretary of State undertake a review of the impact of allowing the bracketing of candidates together and designations of candidates’ principles on school election petitions and ballots, and to report the findings and recommendations to him. The governor’s conditional veto stated his belief that “transforming school election ballots by grouping candidates’ names and campaign slogans compels us to first assess the risk that such a proposal would politicize our nonpartisan school elections.” The Legislature did concur with the governor’s recommendations. However, no such study has been published to date. The bill now goes to the Assembly for further consideration.

Transportation Safety Task Force  S-1910 establishes a Task Force on Safety in School Transportation. The task force is charged with studying issues associated with student safety in school transportation. The task force will:

  1. Review existing state laws, regulations, and programs that address school bus safety and make recommendations for their improvement, including any recommendations necessary to ensure that the pedestrian safety record is routinely reviewed by an appropriate state office;
  2. Examine the possibility of requiring a state department or office to conduct a biannual review of all aspects of school bus safety and to issue recommendations for additional action or oversight, as appropriate;
  3. Review whether the recommendations of the Transportation Task Force of the Commission on Business Efficiency of the Public Schools, included in the 2006 report “Finding the Road: Selected Issues in New Jersey Pupil Transportation,” have been implemented, and identify any barriers to their full implementation;
  4. Develop a plan to phase in any safety measures recommended by the task force through retrofitting and prospective vehicle purchases, and identify the potential application of vehicle sensor technology to improve school bus safety;
  5. Identify best practices for the designation of school bus stops;
  6. Identify strategies that support safe pedestrian behavior by students between their homes and their bus stops;
  7. Identify safety protocols to be followed by school bus drivers and school bus aides;
  8. Develop recommendations to curb illegal passing of school buses; and
  9. Identify whether there is a need for more public education programs that promote school bus safety.

The task force will consist of 17 members, including the commissioner of education; the commissioner of transportation; the chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; the director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety; and 13 members to be appointed by the governor who will provide expertise on pupil transportations and represent various stakeholder groups. The NJSBA, which will have a representative on the task force, supports the bill. The measure moves to the Assembly.

Head Injury Safety Programs S-2348 broadens existing law to provide that students participating in intramural sports programs will be included in the student-athlete head injury safety program, and that the coaches of intramural sports programs must complete a safety training program. Pursuant to current law, the N.J. Department of Education developed a head injury safety training program on the recognition of the symptoms of head injuries and the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to competition of a student who suffers a head injury. Currently, the program must be completed by school physicians, coaches, and athletic trainers involved in interscholastic sports programs and cheerleading programs, but not intramural coaches. NJSBA supports the bill. Its lower house counterpart, A-3799, has received Assembly committee approval, but has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote.

Nourishing Young Minds Initiative S-2819 would establish a non-lapsing revolving fund in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to be known as the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund.” Monies in the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund” would be used by the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Education, to provide support and funding to child food and nutrition programs in the state, which would include:

  1. Funding outreach and programmatic support by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, or community-based organizations;
  2. Providing small grants to fund one-time startup or expansion costs of “breakfast after the bell” programs; and
  3. Providing small grants to fund one-time start-up or expansion costs of summer nutrition programs.

Funding would be prioritized for districts or schools with the highest number of eligible students and lowest participation in the school breakfast program. NJSBA supports the bill. Its lower house counterpart, A-4363, was approved by an Assembly committee last month.

Recovery School Admissions S-2950 requires sending districts to enter into an agreement with the school district that has established the recovery high school if a student from the sending district seeks admittance into the recovery high school and the placement is considered clinically appropriate by a certified alcohol and drug counselor or a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. The bill eliminates the input of district boards of education and superintendents in these situations. NJSBA opposed the bill on the grounds that it creates a new state mandate for districts requiring added tuition and transportation costs but contains no state appropriation to address these expenses. The NJSBA is seeking a provision that would require at least partial state funding before the bill achieves final approval.

Assembly Committees Meet, Education Committee Schedules Final School Funding Hearing

The Assembly Education Committee also met on Monday and released four pieces of legislation that are being actively tracked by NJSBA.

Alternative BOE Apportionment Method  A-1271/S-792 Under current law, most boards of education of regional school districts consist of nine members, with at least one from each constituent district. The remaining seats are allocated to constituent districts on the basis of population. This bill would maintain the size of the regional school district board of education, but permit a newly-created regional school district or a regional school district that will enlarge by adding one or more constituent districts, to determine, with the approval of the commissioner of education, an alternative apportionment method for its board. The bill was approved by the Assembly Education Committee and now goes to the full Assembly for a floor vote. S-792 has already passed the full Senate. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Computer Science Endorsement A-3870 directs the State Board of Education to authorize a computer science education endorsement to the instructional certificate. The endorsement would authorize the holder to teach computer science in all public schools, and would be required to teach computer science in grades 7 through 12 beginning at such time as the State Board determines that there are a sufficient number of teachers holding the computer science education endorsement to make the requirement feasible. The standards established by the State Board would require a candidate for the computer science education endorsement to complete computer science related coursework requirements determined by the State Board. The bill also includes a “grandfather clause” that would allow for the issuance of the endorsement to teachers who have taught computer science within the three years prior to the State Board making the endorsement a requirement to teach computer science. The bill’s Senate counterpart, S-2397, was advanced by the Senate Education Committee earlier this month. NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

HIB Immunity  A-4457 extends immunity to certain private school officials who report incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB). Under this bill, board of directors members and employees of approved private schools for students with disabilities who promptly report an incident of HIB to the appropriate school official designated by the school’s policy or to any school administrator, and who make this report in compliance with the procedures in the school’s anti-bullying policy, will be immune from a cause of action for damages arising from any failure to remedy the reported incident. This provision will provide the same immunity that is currently given to members of a school board and school district employees under the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”

High School Graduation Requirements  ACR-215 embodies the finding of the Legislature that the State Board of Education’s regulations to revise the assessments required for students to demonstrate graduation proficiency, adopted on Aug. 3, 2016 and published in the New Jersey Register on Sept. 6, 2016, are not consistent with the intent of the Legislature. If the resolution is passed by both the full Assembly and Senate, the State Board of Education will have 30 days from the date of transmittal of this resolution to amend or withdraw the regulations, or the Legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the constitution to invalidate the regulations.

The Assembly State and Local Government also met on Monday and released the following measure concerning the Open Public Records Act (OPRA):

A-4532 makes amendments to the Open Public Records Act that would bar an award of attorney’s fees in a successful challenge to a denial of access to records under OPRA if the records custodian acted reasonably and exercised good faith and due diligence. This bill was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Services Committee and now heads to the Assembly for a floor vote.  NJSBA supports the measure.

Final Assembly Hearing on School Funding

The Assembly Education Committee will next meet on Thursday, Feb. 23 to receive testimony from members of the public regarding the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” and other matters related to education funding in the state. The hearing will take place from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. in Committee Room 11, 4th Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, New Jersey. Persons wishing to testify should register with the Office of Legislative Services and click on the “Assembly Education Committee for 2/23/17,” or register by phone at (609) 847-3850 and should submit 15 copies of written testimony. The committee has already held three hearings on school funding. The first was in Trenton where the committee heard from various school funding experts. The other two were held in Bergen County and Gloucester County.