In the hectic last few days of the state Legislative session, dozens of education bills were approved and sent to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature.
Most, but not all, were signed, and over the next few weeks and months school officials will learn what new requirements they may face.
Among the new laws are requirements that districts teach students how to use social media responsibly, and screen students for dyslexia and other reading disabilities. Both take effect for the 2014-15 school year.
State four-year college professors will now have six years to get tenure, rather than five, and tenured professors hired from other states can transfer tenure to New Jersey. State colleges will also have to develop a policy for the emergency administration of epinephrine for anaphylaxis when a medical professional is not available.
Christie let expire bills that would have required all schools to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarms, take measures to deter steroid use among students and train school bus drivers on interacting with students with special needs. Those bills can be reintroduced in the next Legislative session but must go through the entire review process to be reapproved.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney expressed surprise at Christie’s “pocket veto” of dozens of bills approved by the Legislature, noting that many were “simple, commonsense pieces of legislation that passed with bipartisan support.”
Of the six education bills that Christie let expire, he provided an explanation for only the one, which would have required schools to install emergency lights and panic alarms linked to local law enforcement. He said the recommendation should instead be submitted to the School Security Task Force for review.
New Jersey School Boards Association spokeswoman Jeanette Rundquist said in an email that the association agrees with the approach to address concerns about student security in a more comprehensive fashion.
The governor also let expire a bill that would have created a Student Dropout Prevention Task Force and the Office of Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth in the Department of Education. Earlier this month Christie vetoed two other proposed task forces that would have studied mandating full-day kindergarten in New Jersey and ways to make college more affordable. In both cases, Christie lauded the intent of the bills, but said the task forces were unnecessary and duplicated work already being done by state agencies.
The dyslexia screening bill (S2442/A3605) had been controversial over concerns about the cost, but a compromise was reached that limited screening to only students who were showing signs of a reading disability, rather than all students as proposed in the original legislation.
The social media bill (A3292/S2886) requires instruction for students in grades six through eight on the responsible use of social media as part of the state’s standards in technology. The commissioner of education would provide districts with sample learning activities and resources.
Sponsors said students don’t always understand the possible repercussions of their actions on social media.
“Social media is powering the world today and can affect college prospects, job opportunities and much more,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineiri Huttle, D-Bergen.
The recent proliferation of school and community gardens also led to a law that allows schools to serve produce from community gardens as along as the soil and water sources have been tested for contaminants, and the produce is handled and stored in accordance with health and sanitation requirements. It also gives immunity from liability for school employees who serve the produce in good faith.
A resolution designating February of each year as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in New Jersey does not require any action by schools, but does encourage high schools to to “observe the month with appropriate activities and programs.”
The School Boards Association supported many of the new laws, but does still have some concerns with a few. One, co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, will allow districts to adopt salary polices as long as five years, an increase from the current three years. The association noted that the move is voluntary. It urged its members to exercise caution when considering the adoption of a salary policy that extends more than three years.
Taxpayer money should not be committed to an agreement that would extend for too long as this would lead to inflexibility and prevent boards from reacting to changes in the tax base, reductions in state aid, and other economic factors, the association said. The desire for stability in labor relations needs to be balanced against a board of education’s responsibility to manage district operations, personnel and finances.
NJSBA successfully worked with the bill’s sponsors to remove a provision that would have obligated boards of education to pay salary increments to employees under expired contracts.
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