On Monday, May 23, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing to consider several pieces of legislation impacting students and school districts. All of the bills were approved by the committee. The following provides a summary of each measure:

A-1256 / S-1381 would require State Board of Education regulations regarding school nurse certification to include certain minimum eligibility requirements. In June 2013, the State Board adopted amendments to the school nurse certification requirements, which reduced credit requirements for both instructional and non-instructional school nurse endorsements. The code amendments also eliminated the requirement that a candidate for a school nurse endorsement complete a college-supervised school nurse practicum. These changes stemmed from a recommendation of the Education Transformation Task Force, which released its final report in September 2012. The intent of these changes was to simplify certification requirements, address the mismatch between the supply and demand of nurses, maintain health and safety, and increase hiring flexibility for school districts.

This bill codifies into law the previous regulations that required a candidate for a school nurse endorsement to complete a minimum of 30 semester-hour credits that include study in certain subject areas and clinical experience in a school nurse office, in addition to holding a license as a registered nurse and a bachelor’s degree. The bill also codifies the previous requirement that a candidate for a school nurse endorsement must complete a practicum experience in a school nurse office and a classroom. With regard to non-instructional school nurses, the bill codifies the previous State Board of Education requirement that they complete a minimum of 21 semester-hour credits as well as a clinical experience.

The NJSBA expressed concerns with the bill. In written testimony, the NJSBA requested that the Legislature provide more time for the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE ) and local boards of education to evaluate the impact of the 2013 regulatory changes. A sufficient amount of time should elapse to determine if those changes have achieved their intent – to increase the pool of qualified school nurse applicants without diminishing student health and safety. The measure, which passed the General Assembly earlier this year, may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

A-2566 / S-496 directs the state education commissioner to develop and establish an initiative to support and encourage the use of a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework by school districts to promote the achievement of all students. The bill requires the commissioner to ensure that an RTI framework developed and implemented by a school district includes, at a minimum, certain elements that are commonly recognized as core components of any RTI model. These elements include: (1) high quality research-based instruction in the general education setting; (2) universal screening procedures to identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes or behavioral challenges; (3) multiple levels of evidence-based interventions that are progressively more intense, based on the student’s responsiveness; and (4) continuous monitoring of student progress. Finally, the bill requires the commissioner to make technical assistance and training available to assist school districts in implementing an RTI framework. NJSBA supports the legislation. The bill, which the Assembly unanimously approved in February, has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for additional consideration.

S-293 prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco in all public schools. The bill requires every board of education to ensure the placement, in every public entrance to a public school building, of a sign indicating that the use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited in the school. The penalties for using smokeless tobacco would be a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. However, these fines would not be applicable to a student who violates the bill’s provisions. Rather, he or she will be prohibited by the board of education from participation in all extracurricular activities, including interscholastic athletics, and the revocation of any student parking permit that the student may possess. A board of education is required to adopt a policy that establishes the length of the suspension or revocation imposed on a student for an initial or subsequent violation.

In the event that the local board of health receives a written complaint, or has reason to suspect, that a public school is in violation of the bill, then the board of health will provide written notification to the board of education and order that appropriate action be taken. Failure to comply with the order will subject the board to a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. NJSBA supports the legislation, which is now primed for an Assembly floor vote.

S-742 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 impact of legislation is limited to a small number of districts statewide. NJSBA supports this bill. Its lower house counterpart, A-1205, was released from committee earlier this year, but has yet to be posted for a floor vote.

S-1163 establishes requirements for the use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities in school districts and approved private schools for students with disabilities (PSSDs). The legislation also requires NJDOE to annually collect and publish on its website data from school districts and PSSDs on the number of students on which the district or PSSD used restraints or seclusion and the number of times restraints or seclusion were used. NJSBA supports the measure, which may now be posted for a vote by the full Senate.

S-1210  requires current and prospective school district employees who are required to undergo a criminal history record check to also undergo a child abuse record information check. The child abuse record information (CARI) check will be conducted by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), which maintains the state’s child abuse registry. The bill requires any candidate for employment or existing employee to pay for the cost of the check. If DCF determines upon a search of its child abuse registry that an allegation of child abuse or neglect has been substantiated against a current or prospective employee, that individual will be permanently disqualified from employment with a school district. DCF will establish a schedule for conducting the child abuse record information checks of current employees and will complete the checks within five years of the bill’s effective date. The provisions of this bill also apply to current and prospective employees of contracted service providers, including school bus drivers.

NJSBA did not take a public position on S-1210. While supportive of its intent to protect children from contact with individuals who have a history of child abuse or neglect, various logistical and legal concerns must be addressed going forward. NJSBA will continue to closely monitor the bill, which has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

S-1590 requires boards of education to conduct student vision screenings that include an evaluation of acuity and binocular vision. State Board of Education regulations currently require boards of education to conduct visual acuity screenings biennially for students in kindergarten through grade 10. This bill would codify the requirement to screen students for visual acuity and additionally require that the vision screenings include an evaluation of binocular vision skills, including convergence. The bill requires notification to the parent or guardian of any student whose vision screening detects a suspected vision-related problem. Screening students for binocular vision in addition to visual acuity will assist in the early identification of children with vision problems, enabling them to obtain appropriate treatment that can improve educational outcomes and quality of life. NJSBA supports the measure, which now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

S-2081 limits expulsions and suspensions for students in preschool through grade two. Current law outlines the types of conduct that may constitute good cause for the suspension or expulsion of a student from school. This bill would place limits on expulsions and suspensions for students enrolled in preschool through second grade in a school district or charter school. Under the bill, students in preschool through second grade may not be expelled from school, except as provided pursuant to the “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act.” The bill also prohibits out-of-school suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade, except when the suspension is based on conduct that is of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others. In addition, the bill prohibits all suspensions for preschool students.

The bill also requires school districts and charter schools to implement an early detection and prevention program to identify students in preschool through grade two who are experiencing behavioral or disciplinary problems, and provide behavioral supports for these students. NJSBA supports the legislation.