An overview of recent state activity

By Kaitlyn Dunphy, Esq.

The Statehouse has seen a flurry of activity in recent months, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s pen has had no shortage of work signing many of the newly passed bills into law. This article highlights some of those recent laws that may be of interest to NJEA members, as well as to the broader public labor and education communities. It is by no means an exhaustive recitation of all the recent changes in the law—there is a page limit after all! Over the course of the recent lame duck session, over 150 bills were signed into law.

Social justice

A few amendments were made to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), a law that prohibits most forms of discrimination in employment, housing, and public places of accommodation.

Perhaps the most notable of those amendments is the Create a Respectful and Open Workspace for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act. The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on hair textures, styles or types historically associated with race, such as braids, locks and twists. With the passing of this legislation, New Jersey becomes the third state to enact a hairstyle anti-discrimination law, behind California
and New York.

Further, the school law that prohibits excluding children from public schools because of their race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry, was updated to include immigration status, or any protected category under the LAD, such as religion, sex, disability, or gender identity
or expression.

Health and safety

Two bills were passed to protect the health and safety of New Jersey’s student-athletes. The first requires school districts that participate in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to adopt the NJSIAA’s heat participation policy. This policy sets guidelines for holding athletic events and practices at certain heat and humidity levels, to protect student-athletes from weather-related injuries such as heat stroke. The second requires schools to establish emergency action plans for responding to serious sports-related injuries for sixth through
12th graders.

New Jersey’s students will also be protected by a law prohibiting the sale of flavored vape products, which will take effect on April 20. Many of the proponents of the bill were motivated by concern that flavored vape products are attractive to young people and enticing a new generation’s addiction to nicotine.

“Paul’s Law,” named after the 13-year-old student who advocated for the bill, permits parents or guardians to request schools to develop and utilize an individualized health care plan for students with epilepsy or seizure disorders. The plan would be developed by the school nurse, in consultation with the parent or guardian, and would set forth the steps to be taken in the event of a medical event.

Education

Amendments were made to a grant program available for eligible courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Applications for the grants are made to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and are available to teachers teaching STEM courses at nonpublic schools outside of their regular duties, in accordance with the NJDOE’s eligibility requirements. Members applying for these grants should reach out to their association to ensure the grant work does not interfere with their collective bargaining agreement or their usual work.

The “Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act” was recently signed into law. It codifies State Board of Education regulations that set school district responsibilities for educational services provided to students from kindergarten through 12th grades. Districts are required to have protocols for identifying gifted and talented students and offer them instructional adaptations and curriculum modifications.

Additionally, the state passed the “Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program.” This pilot program will implement restorative justice practices in 15 schools throughout the state. It will focus on using restorative justice as an approach to discipline. The bill’s sponsors have noted that it is an alternative to suspension and expulsions, which keep students out of the classroom and disproportionately affect students of color.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of recent legislation that has been enacted to protect our students and preserve our member’s rights. Such efforts are only possible through the continued activism of our membership.

Kaitlyn Dunphy is an associate director of NJEA Legal Services and Member Rights in the NJEA Executive Office. She can be reached at kdunphy@njea.org.

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