On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Gov. Christie signed into law dozens of bills that had been sent to his desk in the final week of the 215th legislative session. Several of these measures impact New Jersey’s school districts and their students. Below is a summary of each of those new laws, full copies of which can be accessed by clicking on their respective bill numbers. Unless otherwise noted, these enactments went into effect immediately upon his signature.

Bus Safety Sensors Will Soon Be Required

A-1455/S-2011 (P.L.2015, c.266) designated “Abigail’s Law,” requires that all newly-manufactured school buses be equipped with sensors to alert a bus driver when a child walks in front of or behind the bus. This law goes into effect 180 days following enactment, but only applies prospectively. Therefore, buses already in operation would not need to be retrofitted with new sensors. The bill provides that the design and installation of the sensor must conform to regulations to be promulgated by the State Board of Education, in consultation with the chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

New Special Education Office Created

S-451/A-1103 (P.L.2015, c.219) establishes the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). The office will serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators regarding special education rights and services. The Special Education Ombudsman, to be appointed by the commissioner, will submit an annual report to the State Board of Education and the commissioner that includes a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and recommendations concerning the implementation of special education procedures and services.

Joint Petitions and Bracketing Proposal to Undergo Examination

A-4386/S-3042 (P.L.2015, c.300) directs the N.J. Secretary of State, in consultation with the education commissioner and with the clerk of each county, to conduct a study of the impact of allowing the bracketing of candidates together and designations of candidates’ principles on school election petitions and ballots. The study shall be completed and submitted to the governor and to the Legislature within one year.

The Legislature concurred with the governor’s recommendations issued pursuant to his conditional veto authority. As originally passed by the Legislature, the bill would have permitted candidates to sign or circulate, or both sign and circulate, a joint petition of nomination for the same term. The legislation would have allowed such candidates to be bracketed together on a ballot. The bill also required the secretary of state, along with the commissioner of education and the county clerks, to simultaneously conduct a study on the impact of these changes. Citing concerns that the bill’s provisions “could very well inject partisan politics into our nonpartisan school elections,” the governor insisted that a study on the proposal be completed prior to enacting and implementing it.

Two Testing Transparency Bills Approved

S-2923/A-4901 (P.L.2015, c.244) requires school districts or charter schools to provide notification to parents or guardians of enrolled students on the upcoming administration of state assessments or commercially-developed standardized assessments. More specifically, no later than Oct. 1 of each school year, a school district and a charter school must provide to the parents or guardians of a student enrolled in the district or school information on any state assessment or commercially-developed standardized assessment that will be administered to the student in that school year. The commissioner of education is to provide a model document to each school district and charter school to provide the required information to parents or guardians and information on the costs incurred by the state associated with the administration of the state assessment. The bill also requires the commissioner to determine by regulation the information which will be provided to parents or guardians of students enrolled in the district or charter school. The specific information items listed in the bill will be required to be included in the commissioner’s regulations. The information provided annually to parents or guardians must also be available at the meeting of the board of education of the school district or the meeting of the board of trustees of the charter school at which the annual School Performance Reports are presented to the public. This law will first be applicable to the first full school year following enactment (i.e., the 2016-2017 school year).

The governor also signed S-2922/A-4925 (P.L.2015, c.243), which requires the NJDOE to link on its website to the N.J. Department of Treasury’s website where a list is maintained of all contractors, subcontractors, advisors, or consultants employed or retained by the treasury department for any work associated with the administration, evaluation, monitoring of social media for security breaches, grading, or ongoing development of state assessments.

Recovery Schools Now Permissible

S-3240/A-4878 (P.L.2015, c.254) authorizes a school district to establish alternative education programs, including recovery high school alternative education programs, upon the approval of the board of education. A recovery high school alternative education program is defined as an alternative education program that serves students diagnosed with substance use disorder or dependency as defined by the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and that provides a comprehensive four-year high school education in an alternative public school setting and a structured plan of recovery that is aligned with the national framework of evidence-based practices for recovery high schools.

The governor also approved the following education-related proposals:

A-1667/S-2155 (P.L.2015, c.269) permits a child whose parent or guardian is a member of the New Jersey National Guard or a member of the reserve component of the armed forces of the United States and who has been ordered into active military service in any of the armed forces of the United States in a time of war or national emergency to remain enrolled in the school district in which the child’s parent or guardian is domiciled at the time of being ordered into active military service, regardless of where the child resides during the period of active duty. The bill also provides that the school district will not be responsible for providing transportation for the child if the child lives outside of the district. Following the return of the child’s parent or guardian from active military service, the child’s eligibility to remain enrolled in the school district will cease at the end of the current school year unless the parent or guardian is domiciled in the school district.

A-4148/S-2731 (P.L.2015, c.297) provides that any pupil of a public school who is absent from school on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, attending a ceremony honoring a veteran or a member of the United States Armed Forces or the New Jersey National Guard returning from overseas deployments, or assisting a veteran at a hospital, food shelter, or any similar facility, will have the absence recorded by the school district as an excused absence upon providing documentation of participation in the activity to the school district.

A-311/S-2426 (P.L.2015, c.262) requires public schools to weight courses in the visual and performing arts equally with other courses of the same level of academic rigor and worth the same number of credits in calculating a pupil’s grade point average. The bill defines “academic rigor” as a course’s classification as a general education course, an honors course, or an advanced placement course. The bill’s provision will first apply to the first full school year following its enactment (i.e., the 2016-2017 school year).

A-1466 (P.L.2015, c.268) allows for a waiver of school bus requirements for mobility-assistance vehicle technicians (MAVTs) who transport students with medical needs to and from school. This bill provides that a board of education, the governing body of a nonpublic school, or a state agency may authorize a person who is certified as a MAVT to transport a student with medical needs to and from school or related school activities in a mobility assistance vehicle (MAV) without being required to be licensed or regulated as a school bus driver. Under the bill’s provisions, the MAV would be exempt from all registration, equipment, inspection, and maintenance requirements that are applicable to a school bus. The bill requires that each year prior to transporting students under the bill’s provisions, a MAVT would be required to submit to the executive county superintendent of schools a criminal history background check and evidence of a check for alcohol and drug-related motor vehicle violations. The bill defines a “student with medical needs” as a school-aged child who suffers from a life-threatening medical condition, and as a result of such condition, requires more individualized and continuous care.

A-2597/S-2161 (P.L.2015, c.274) provides that beginning with the class of students who enter ninth grade in the 2016-2017 school year, Advanced Placement computer science courses may satisfy a part of either the mathematics or science credits required for high school graduation.

A-4415/S-3279 (P.L.2015, c.303) establishes the State Seal of Biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in one or more world languages in addition to English. The provisions of this law shall first apply to the 2016-2017 school year.

S-1687/A-4924 (P.L.2015, c.228) permits students made homeless by an act of terrorism or natural disaster to attend tuition-free the school district in which they resided prior to being homeless for two school years after the event.

S-489/A-4926 (P.L.2015, c.221) authorizes institutions of higher education to grant up to three college credits to high school students who complete the Jersey Boys State or Jersey Girls State program. The Jersey Boys State program and the Jersey Girls State program provide a college-level curriculum to a select group of high school juniors, or delegates, who complete an intensive, weeklong governmental leadership program in which delegates create, elect, and administer their own government.

S-3247/A-4928 (P.L.2015, c.257) eliminates the $500,000 cap on the cost of an SDA (former Abbott) district school facilities project that may be constructed by an SDA district and included in capital outlay budget. However, doing so would need to be approved by the NJDOE.

S-2032/A-3440 (P.L.2015, c.229) requires the NJDOE to review the Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure that they incorporate modern computer science standards where appropriate.

Several Education Bills Die on Governor’s Desk

The governor “pocket vetoed” each of the bills listed below. As these bills were passed within the final 10 days of the two-year legislative session, the governor had the authority to allow them to die through inaction. This is the only situation in which a bill can be vetoed without it being returned to the Legislature.

S-1594/A-4044 requires that a public school district must provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through 5.

S-3244/A-2740 eliminates the per-pupil administrative cost limit for school districts.

A-2925/S-1033 allows modernization for the form of payment disbursements by authorizing local units (including school districts) to adopt policies providing for standard electronic funds transfer (EFT) technologies to be used for the payment of certain claims.

S-2716/A-4359 would require that a school district’s request for permission to use an unrecognized position title include a list of abolished positions and positions in which there have been layoffs and detailed job descriptions for them.

S-3067/A-4653 requires that teachers appointed to teach health, health and physical education, or physical education in grades kindergarten through six possess the appropriate endorsement to their instructional certificate.

A-1849/S-1766 prohibits the State Board of Education from limiting the number of professional education credits earned at a regionally accredited two-year college that may be applied towards meeting the requirements for teacher certification, provided that the credits are accepted by a state-approved college professional education preparation program.

A-2583 requires the development of a fact sheet about bedbugs to be posted on the NJDOE’s website.

A-1431/S-1501 would require the State Board of Education regulations regarding school nurse certification to include certain minimum eligibility requirements.