Last week Gov. Chris Christie took action on dozens of bills that were sent to his desk before the Legislature recessed for the summer. He approved nine new laws impacting New Jersey’s public school districts, while conditionally vetoing two other school-related bills and returning them to the Legislature.

New Laws

Sending District Voting Rights S-3191/A-3370 (P.L.2017, c.140) broadens the voting rights of representatives of sending school districts who are eligible for membership on a receiving district board of education. The existing law permitted representatives to vote on tuition which the receiving district will charge the sending district, along with certain bill lists or contracts; new capital construction to be used by sending district pupils; the appointment, transfer or removal of certain teaching staff members and professional administrative staff; and the addition or deletion of curricular and extracurricular programs involving pupils of the sending district. This new law provides that the representative may also vote on any matter directly involving sending district pupils or programs and services used by them; approval of the annual receiving district budget; any collectively-negotiated agreement involving employees who provide services used by sending district pupils; any individual employee contracts not covered by a collectively-negotiated agreement, if those employees provide or oversee programs or services utilized by sending district pupils; and any matter concerning governance of the receiving board, including, but not limited to, the selection of board president and vice-president, approval of board bylaws, and the employment of professionals or consultants such as attorneys, architects, engineers, or others who provide services to the receiving district board of education.

The NJSBA-initiated bill is based on policy adopted at the May 2014 Delegate Assembly which states: “The statutory language of N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8.1 should be revised to expand the voting rights of sending district representatives on matters before the receiving district board of education to include the ability to vote on all matters that impact the students of the sending district in the receiving district; all district-wide issues; all board governance issues and all matters related to the grade levels to which the sending district sends its students.”

NJSBA strongly supported the measure, which takes effect immediately.

Special Ed Legal Decisions Database S-1451/A-3856 (P.L.2017, c.103) directs the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to create an electronic database, available on its website, of legal decisions concerning special education. The purpose of the database is to provide anyone – parents, school districts, child study team members, members of the public – with easily accessible information on legal decisions regarding New Jersey special education matters.

Specifically, the database will contain a full-text copy of each written decision rendered by the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law in a special education due process hearing. If the decision is appealed, any subsequent decision on the matter rendered by a state or federal court will also be posted on the database. The bill authorizes the NJDOE to meet the requirements by maintaining the database either directly on its website or by entering into a memorandum of understanding with another entity that maintains a database of such legal decisions.

The database will only include those special education decisions rendered after the effective date of this act. The law goes into effect on Feb. 1, 2018. NJSBA supported the legislation throughout the legislative process.

Head Injury Safety Training S-2348/A-3799 (P.L.2017, c.105) applies the student-athlete head injury safety program to intramural sports programs. It essentially broadens the scope of existing law to provide that students participating in intramural sports 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 a 2011 law, the NJDOE 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. The law also required school districts to develop a written policy concerning the prevention and treatment of sports-related concussions and other head injuries among student-athletes and cheerleaders. It also provides that students who participate in sports or cheerleading programs who sustain a concussion or other head injury must be immediately removed from the competition or practice and may not return until evaluated and cleared by a physician. The safety training program must be completed by school physicians, coaches, and athletic trainers involved in interscholastic sports programs and cheerleading programs. However, until now, it did not require training for coaches of intramural sports.

The new law goes into effect 90 days after the governor approved it.

Opioid EducationA-3944/S-2402 (P.L.2017, c.167) requires the state education commissioner to develop an educational fact sheet that provides information concerning the use and misuse of opioid drugs in the event that a student-athlete or cheerleader is prescribed an opioid for a sports-related injury. The law requires school districts and nonpublic schools to distribute the fact sheet annually to the parents or guardians of student-athletes and cheerleaders, and to obtain a signed acknowledgement of its receipt. NJSBA supports the measure.

The law takes effect immediately, but the commissioner has 120 days to develop the educational fact sheet.

School Security SurveillanceS-742/A-1205 (P.L.2017, c. 119) requires that if a school building is equipped with video surveillance equipment that is capable of wirelessly streaming live video to a remote location, the board of education must enter into a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement authorities giving the authorities the ability to activate the equipment and view live-streaming videos. The law’s provisions only apply to those buildings already equipped with video surveillance equipment. Therefore, its impact is limited to a small number of districts statewide. NJSBA supports the legislation, which took effect immediately.

Guidance on Transgender Students S-3067/A-4652 (P.L.2017, c.137) requires the state commissioner of education to develop guidelines for school districts regarding transgender students. The guidelines are intended to provide direction for schools in addressing common issues concerning the needs of transgender students, and to assist schools in establishing policies and procedures that ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students. The guidelines will also include information on organizations or other resources available to students and parents that provide support to transgender individuals.

In addition, the law requires the commissioner to provide school districts with guidance and resources regarding: (1) providing professional development opportunities to school staff regarding issues and concerns relevant to LGBTQ students; and (2) making developmentally-appropriate information about LGBTQ issues available in school facilities. NJSBA supported the bill, which went into effect immediately upon the governor’s approval.

School Safety Specialists A-3347/S-2242 (P.L.2017, c.162) establishes the “New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy” within the NJDOE. The purpose of the academy will be to serve as a repository for best practices, training standards, and compliance oversight in matters regarding school safety and security. Under the law, the academy will develop and implement a school safety specialist certification program. Each school superintendent will be required to designate a school administrator as a school safety specialist who must complete the certification program. The school safety specialist will be responsible for the supervision and oversight of all school safety and security personnel, policies, and procedures in the school district; ensure that these policies and procedures are in compliance with state law and regulations; and provide the necessary training and resources to school district staff in matters relating to school safety and security. The school safety specialist will also serve as the school district liaison with local law enforcement and other agencies and organizations in matters of school safety and security.

The NJSBA supported the legislation, which codifies one of the recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force, which released its final report in July 2015. Earlier in the legislative process, the NJSBA successfully obtained amendments to the bill clarifying that the certification program and any related training and professional development will be provided free of charge to designated school safety specialists.

This new law takes effect in January 2018, 180 days after enactment.

College Readiness Commission A-4088/S-2567 (2017, c.170) establishes a “High School to College Readiness Commission.” Under the law, the commission will consist of 18 members including: the commissioner of education, the secretary of higher education, the executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, and 11 members from various associations representing the K-12 and higher education communities. NJSBA will have a representative on the commission. The commission will study and develop recommendations on “issues related to enhancing student preparation for postsecondary education and raising the awareness of students and parents on the admission requirements and the financial and other issues associated with postsecondary education.” NJSBA supports the legislation.

The law took effect immediately and the commission shall issue a report of its findings and recommendations to the governor and to the Legislature no later than one year after it organizes.

ELL Students in G&T Programs A-4175/S-2808 (P.L.2017, c. 171) directs the state education commissioner to develop guidance for school districts regarding the identification of English language learners for gifted and talented programs. The purpose of the guidance is to assist districts in identifying English language learners in grades kindergarten through 12 who are gifted and talented in order to match them with programs that will help them achieve in accordance with their full capabilities; and provide guidelines on appropriate identification methods that may help reduce the underrepresentation of English language learners in gifted and talented programs. NJSBA supported the new law, which takes effect immediately.

Conditional Vetoes Pursuant to his conditional veto authority, the governor returned the following two bills to the Legislature with recommended changes. The Legislature can now either adopt the governor’s recommendations, or attempt to override the vetoes, which would require the approval of at least two-thirds of the members of each House.

Joint Bracketing in School Elections S-1297/A-3751 would have permitted 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 permitted 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 (P.L.2015, c.300; 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 eventually concurred with the governor’s recommendations.

In conditionally vetoing S-1297/A-3751, the governor stated that the report issued by the Secretary of State confirmed his concerns that the bracketing of the candidates and the use of a three-word designation may politicize school elections. “The provision of this bill,” he wrote, “may create a justifiable perception that bracketed school board members are surrendering their independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups, violating the public’s trust and confidence in members of local boards of education.”

However, the governor did leave the issue open for further study and deliberation. He is now recommending that a pilot program be established that would allow candidates in one school election in each county to circulate petitions jointly and be bracketed together under a designation, upon the request of the school district and approval of the Secretary of State and applicable county clerk. The pilot program would expire after three years, at which time the Secretary of State, in consultation with the education commissioner and the county clerk, would issue a study and report on the impact of the program. Read the full veto statement and governor’s recommendations here.

Students on Naval Property A-4453/S-2881 would have required pupils who reside on the Naval Weapons Station Earle to enroll in the resident school district in accordance with an enrollment schedule determined by the executive county superintendent. The schedule would provide for the transition, over a period of four school years, of all pupils enrolled in the designated district to enrollment in the schools of the district in which the pupils reside, so that by July 1, 2020 all pupils are enrolled in the schools of the district in which they reside.

A 1988 law authorized the executive county superintendent of schools in Monmouth County to designate a school district as the district of residence for the students who reside on federal property at the Naval Weapons Station Earle. The property on which Earle is located is within the geographic boundaries of two separate school districts. Pursuant to that law, the Tinton Falls School District has provided educational services to children who reside on Earle since the 1988-1989 school year.

In his conditional veto statement, the governor expressed concern that the measure would alter a long-standing arrangement without adequately assessing its impact on the families and children who reside on the base, or the financial impact on the towns and school districts involved. “Prior to such a measure being taken,” the governor declared, “it is prudent to review whether the proposed change is educationally appropriate for the students involved.” Rather than approve the bill as passed by the Legislature, the governor is instead recommending that a “Naval Weapons Station Earle Study Commission” be established to study the impact of changing the designated district for the students residing on the base. Should the Legislature concur with the governor’s recommendations and the bill become law, the commission is to issue a final report to the governor by June 1, 2018.