On Thursday, June 14 the Senate Education Committee moved several legislative measures aimed at preventing child abuse and sexual assault in schools.  Many of the bills were in response to testimony taken at recent public hearings held jointly by the Senate Education and Labor committees.

S-2489  requires a board of education to prominently display information about the N.J. Department of Children and Families’ State Central Registry, a toll-free hotline for reporting child abuse, in each school of the district. NJSBA supports the bill.

S-2707 establishes a task force within the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in this state, including recommendations for school policies and training that address the sexual abuse of children. NJSBA supports the bill and would have a representative on the task force.

S-2709  provides that a person who is 21 or older, is employed or volunteering at the victim’s school, and had contact with the victim in the course of performing their duties would be guilty of criminal sexual assault if they commit an act of sexual contact or penetration against a pupil. It would amend the current law, so it would qualify as a criminal act so long as the victim had not yet received a high school diploma.

S-2711  requires that all candidates for teaching certification receive training on the recognition of, and the requirement to report, child abuse including sexual abuse. The bill would go into effect in the 2020-2021 school year for candidates enrolled in teacher preparation programs and in 2019-2020 for alternate route candidates. NJSBA supports the bill.

S-2712  requires training on sexual assault and child abuse for arbitrators who hear tenure cases.  This training would be for the purpose of assisting arbitrators in determining matters in which this type of conduct is the basis of the tenure charges made against the employee. NJSBA testified in support of the legislation, and offered the suggestion that the training should be broader in scope and ensure that arbitrators have sufficient guidance when considering tenure arbitration cases related to conduct unbecoming. NJSBA will continue to work with the sponsor on changes that would strengthen the legislation.

S-2713  directs the commissioner of education to annually collect data from each school district on the number of school employees who were disciplined, discharged, nonrenewed, asked to resign from employment, resigned from or otherwise separated from any employment while allegations of child abuse, sexual misconduct, or sexual or other harassment were pending or under investigation, or due to an adjudication or finding of child abuse, sexual misconduct, or sexual or other harassment. The bill requires NJDOE to annually submit a summary report to the Legislature on the data collected pursuant to the bill’s provisions.  The bill also requires NJDOE publish an annual report on the implementation of the recently enacted law (P.L.2018, c.5) that requires school districts to ascertain prospective employees’ past allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct. NJSBA supports the bill.

S-2714  provides that if a board of education determines that a teaching staff member has failed to report an allegation of child abuse in accordance with state law or regulations, the board of education must submit a report to the State Board of Examiners that outlines its finding. The State Board of Examiners will review the certification of the teaching staff member to determine if the failure to report warrants the revocation or suspension of his certificate. NJSBA supports the bill.

S-2715  requires that the attorney general, in consultation with the commissioner of education, develop a protocol establishing policies regarding the retention of video footage from school surveillance systems. NJSBA supports the bill.

S-408 directs school districts to establish policies and require training for employees on issues regarding child sexual abuse. NJSBA did not take a public position, but indicated that districts are already required to have policies on child abuse and neglect, and all full-time employees must receive training on such matters.  Therefore, this bill may be redundant and unnecessary.

S-641 requires a person who has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been sexually abused to immediately report that abuse to law enforcement officials.  The NJSBA took no position on the bill as school district staff are already required to report suspected abuse to law enforcement pursuant to NJDOE regulations.

S-1129  requires certain public school employees, employees of contracted service providers, school bus drivers, and candidates for those positions to undergo a child abuse record information check.  NJSBA supports the bill.

The committee also released the following bills:

A-542/S-1830 would require boards of education to develop a policy for the emergency administration of opioid antidotes to students and staff members. The policy would require high schools, and would permit any other school, to maintain a supply of opioid antidotes and permit emergency administration of an opioid antidote by a school nurse or trained employee. The opioid antidotes must be accessible during regular school hours and during school-sponsored functions that take place on school grounds. A board of education may, at its discretion, make opioid antidotes accessible during school-sponsored functions that take place off school grounds. The bill’s requirements would also apply to charter and nonpublic schools. The bill directs the New Jersey Department of Education to establish guidelines for school districts in developing their policies for the administration of opioid antidotes. The guidelines will require that each school nurse, and each employee designated by the board of education, receive training on standardized protocols for the administration of an opioid antidote to a student or staff member who experiences an opioid overdose.  NJSBA supports the bill.

S-2044 establishes a “Deaf Students Bill of Rights.” Under the bill, school districts would be required to recognize the rights of students who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind by providing these students with access to a variety of services. While supportive of the goals of the legislation, NJSBA sought an amendment to clarify that these rights should be granted through a student’s IEP or Section 504 plan.  The bill was approved unanimously and now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

S-2045 establishes in the department of education a working group on deaf education for the purpose of making recommendations on issues related to the early linguistic development of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The working group will consist of 12 members appointed by the commissioner of education. The bill also directs the department to, after consideration of the recommendations provided by the working group, select one or more early intervention assessments to be used by educators to assess the language and literacy development of deaf and hard of hearing children.  The bill directs the department to disseminate the selected assessments to school districts, and provide materials and training on their use. NJSBA supported the bill which now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

S-2304 requires that the board of education of a school district provide an individual textbook for each student enrolled in each class in the district which uses a textbook. The bill defines a textbook as any book, workbook or manual, or electronic textbook intended as the principal source of study for a given class.  NJSBA is monitoring the bill which now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Bills to Revise OPMA and OPRA On the Move Last Thursday, the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee heard and released the following bills impacting local school districts:

S-106 makes various changes to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the “Sunshine Law.” NJSBA was supportive of the effort to modernize the law for the 21st century, but objected to certain provisions that would be onerous to local school districts. Chief among these is a proposed requirement to pay a complainant’s attorney’s fees should they file a winning claim against a school district for a violation.  NJSBA argued that such a provision takes scarce financial resources out of the classroom.  The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

S-107 makes various access changes to the Open Public Records Act.  While supportive of some of the provisions to update the law, NJSBA testified that the legislation must not lose sight of a local board of education’s need to conduct its business efficiently, without unreasonable delay, undue expense or administrative burden. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

S-1905 NJSBA was supportive of this measure, which exempts email addresses from OPRA’s provisions and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

S-1232 NJSBA supported this  bill, which would bar an award of attorney’s fees in a successful challenge to a denial of access to these records under OPRA, if the court or agency head finds that the records custodian acted reasonably and exercised good faith and due diligence. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Assembly Education Committee Takes on School Security On Monday, June 18 the Assembly Education Committee approved a series of bills intended to enhance security in the state’s public schools.  Earlier this spring, the Assembly committee partnered with its Senate counterpart and held a series of public hearings around the state during which they heard recommendations from various education stakeholders and security experts on ways to make our schools safer. The measures advanced on Monday would codify several of those recommendations into law.  Below are brief summaries of the bills that the committee voted to move forward:

A-4112  requires each board of education and chief school administrator of a nonpublic school to provide a copy of the current blueprints and maps for all schools and school grounds to local law enforcement authorities. NJSBA supports the bill.

A-4148  Allows law enforcement agencies to provide juvenile-family crisis information to the principal of a juvenile’s school for planning programs relevant to the juvenile’s educational and social development. NJSBA supports the bill.

A-4149 establishes in the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety a two-year pilot program for at-risk youths to be administered by the Office of the Attorney General in consultation with the education commissioner.  Under the program, participating county and municipal law enforcement agencies would be required to coordinate with local school districts to identify at-risk youths within their communities and respond to their needs by providing necessary intervention resources to promote their success and prevent future criminal behavior or involvement with the criminal justice system. NJSBA supports the bill.

A-4150 requires a meeting between a student and a school psychologist, guidance counselor, or member of the school interventions and referral services team prior to the student’s suspension or expulsion from public school.  NJSBA supports the bill.

A-3519 creates a “Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program” in the NJDOE. The goals of the pilot program are to reduce racial disparities in school discipline; improve the socioemotional and behavioral responses of students through the use of more appropriate, and less punitive, interventions; and reduce recidivism rates among students who violate the school district code of conduct.  The bill was approved by the Assembly Education Committee and now heads for consideration by the full Assembly. NJSBA supports the bill.

A-3765  permits a school district superintendent to designate a school employee with expertise as a school safety specialist. Under current law, a school district superintendent must designate a “school administrator” as the school safety specialist for the school district. NJSBA supports the bill, as it provides school districts greater flexibility to appoint the most appropriate staffer to serve as the designated school safety specialist, regardless if he or she holds an administrator certificate.

A-4147 requires school districts to conduct an audit of security features of district buildings, grounds, and communication systems using a standardized checklist and to submit an audit to the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the New Jersey Department of Education.  NJSBA secured an amendment to ensure that these security documents would be kept confidential. NJSBA supported this bill.

A-4151  requires school security training for persons employed by public and nonpublic schools in a substitute capacity and for employees and volunteers of youth programs operated in school facilities. NJSBA supports the bill, and successfully obtained amendments intended to make implementation more practical while ensuring that individuals who have oversight of a classroom or district-approved youth program are provided with important information on how to respond to a security emergency.

In addition to the school security and safety measures, the committee approved the following bills:

A-1414  requires financial literacy instruction to pupils enrolled in grades six through eight. NJSBA supports the bill. This instruction must meet the requirements established by the State Board of Education, reflect the age and comprehension of the students enrolled in the particular grade level and include content on budgeting, savings, credit, debt, insurance, investment and other issues associated with personal financial responsibility as determined by the State Board. NJSBA supports this bill.

A-4076/S-847 requires school districts to provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through 5. The bill also permits denial of recess for a violation of code of student conduct, but the student must be provided restorative justice activities. “Restorative Justice Activities” are defined as activities that are designed to improve the socioemotional and behavioral responses of students through the use of more appropriate, and less punitive, interventions thereby establishing a more supportive and inclusive school culture. NJSBA supports the bill.

A-533 requires the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to require a criminal history records check for a person to serve as an official at athletic events sanctioned by the association.

Vo-Tech/School Security Bond Proposal Continues to Advance On Monday, both the Assembly Education and Budget Committees advanced legislation, known as the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act,” that would send a $1 billion bond referendum to voters in November, the proceeds of which would be used to fund the expansion of county vocational-technical schools and county colleges, while also providing funds for school security improvement grants.  The Education Committee amended the bill (A-3902/S-2293), to carve out $100 million that would be used for school district water infrastructure improvement.  In its current form, the $1 billion could be used for the following purposes:

–          $400 million for county vocational school district career and technical education grants;

–          $50 million for county college career and technical education grants;

–          $450 million for school facility security grants; and

–          $100 million for school facility water infrastructure improvement grants.

In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA indicated its general support for the legislation, which would provide much-needed funding for various critical programs to the benefit of school districts across the state.  However, the NJSBA took the opportunity to highlight the fact that the state’s traditional school districts are also exploring ways to expand their career and technical education (CTE) programs and would benefit from the resources that would be made available through the CTE expansion grants, if the bond referendum is approved. The bill now requires the approval of the General Assembly and Senate (which already passed an earlier version of the bill) before going to the governor.  If signed into law, it will go before the voters at the November general election.

Gun Safety Measures Now Law Last Wednesday, June 13, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a package of bills intended to promote firearm safety and stem gun violence.  Consistent with policy language adopted at the May 19 Delegate Assembly, the NJSBA advocated in support of the following proposed enhancements and changes to laws governing firearms access:

Preventive Firearm Seizures  S-160/A-1181 requires law enforcement, upon order of the court, to seize a firearm that is in the possession of a person determined by certain licensed health care professionals to be likely to engage in conduct that poses a threat of serious harm to the patient or another person.

Keeping Firearms from Dangerous Individuals A-1217/S-2259, titled the “Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018,” would establish a process and procedures for obtaining an extreme risk protective order (ERPO) against persons who pose a significant danger or bodily injury to themselves or others by possessing or purchasing a firearm.

Reducing Magazine Capacity  A-2761/S-102 bans firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Magazines capable of holding up to 15 rounds of ammunition currently are legal in New Jersey.

Expanding Background Checks  S-2374/A-2757 requires background checks for private gun sales. The bill requires all sales or other transfers of a handgun, rifle, or shotgun to be conducted through a state-licensed retail dealer or Federal Firearms Licensee. The bill requires the retail dealer or licensee to complete a National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) on the recipient of the firearm.

Defining “Justifiable Need”  S-2376/A-2758 codifies regulations defining a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun into state statute.  “Justifiable need” is defined as the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry.

Armor-Piercing Ammunition Ban S-2245/A-2759 prohibits the possession of armor-piercing ammunition, and makes it a crime of the fourth degree to possess or manufacture such ammunition.