At its monthly meeting, held May 4, the State Board of Education adopted new student learning standards (see separate article), heard testimony on HIB, and testimony on a New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) proposal regarding teacher evaluations, and more.

Harrassment, Intimidation and Bullying The State Board continued its discussion from an earlier meeting on revisions to N.J.A.C. 6A:16 Programs to Support Student Development. Many of the proposed changes include revisions to the regulations concerning harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB). The NJDOE has suggested new language to require each district board of education’s policy prohibiting HIB on school grounds to include a statement that bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that may involve a real or perceived power imbalance.

Including power imbalance as a method of distinguishing the characteristic that motivated the aggressor was recommended by the Anti-Bullying Task Force, since power imbalance could be the root cause of the aggressor’s behavior toward the target. Also included in the proposal is new language that permits the school district’s policy on HIB to include a process by which the principal, or his/her designee, in consultation with the district’s anti-bullying specialist, makes a preliminary determination as to whether a reported incident or complaint is a report of an act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying, prior to initiating an investigation. The NJDOE has also proposed extending the protections of these regulations to private schools for students with disabilities (PSSD).

During the public testimony session of the meeting, John Burns, NJSBA counsel, spoke of the need to keep students safe in an environment free from harassment, intimidation and bullying. However, he raised two major concerns. The first was the concern that if a principal was to make a preliminary determination on an HIB incident, he must do so as part of the investigation, not as an activity separate from the investigation. Second, if the HIB regulations were to be extended to PSSDs, those schools should be in charge of their appeals process. The local board of education should not have a part in the process when the local district plays a limited role in the daily lives of these students.

Educator Effectiveness Regulations The NJDOE presented its proposal to revise the regulations concerning educator effectiveness.While there are many proposed revisions, a key one will reduce the amount of time that administrators must spend doing evaluations. For non-tenured teachers, the NJDOE is proposing to eliminate the required two 40-minute observations, replacing them with observations of twenty minutes each for a total of three evaluations each lasting 20 minutes in duration. Each tenured teacher’s observations are reduced to only twice a year from the previous three. The department estimates that administrators will save an average of at least 35 hours a year through this differentiated approach and will have the flexibility to spend more time, working with novice teachers and others who need extra support; engaging in collaborative team work; and, having more targeted professional dialog with those they supervise.

At its meeting, the State Board also heard a presentation from the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education concerning the ways in which it is using universal design for learning as a tool to help those with disabilities to learn more about the topics of holocaust, genocide, prejudice and bullying. Universal design for learning reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges. It provides students with choices while maintaining high achievement and expectations for all students.

In addition, the State Board passed a resolution to recognize May as Physical Education and Sport month.