More school safety bills up for votes in NJ Senate
Both sides of the Legislature begin the lame-duck session avalanche in earnest Thursday, with 13 committees hearing 87 bills.
Among the loose ends being tied up, along with the wave of new proposals starting the process from scratch, are school security initiatives the Assembly approved without opposition months ago that are now getting attention in the Senate.
One requires annual security audits for school grounds and emergency communications, using a standardized checklist with the results forwarded to the state. Another requires security training for substitute teachers and youth organizations that use schools.
The last requires students who’ve been suspended more than once or are facing expulsion to see a school psychologist. Deb Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, said that can help connect people to needed intervention services.
“Students who repeatedly violate the student code of conduct are likely signaling for help,” Bradley said in testimony in the Assembly.
Fran Pfeffer, associate director of government relations for the New Jersey Education Association, said that sounds good – but that members of child study teams already can’t keep up with workloads. She said the state needs to put more funding into schools’ mental-health programs.
“It will help kids, but it will really make it difficult for our members in schools to do their jobs,” Pfeffer said.
The bill allows social workers or counselors to do the interview, but only if a school doesn’t have a psychologist.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, said a lot of support personnel have been lost in schools in an effort to avoid losing teachers in an age with a 2% cap on yearly increases in the property tax levy.
“The burden is tremendous, especially at a time when we’re seeing increasing mental health issues,” Jasey said.
Lawmakers held a youth mental health roundtable Tuesday at the Statehouse, focused on how to prevent suicides and related concerns. Among the needs mentioned is additional funding.
The proposal requiring substitute teachers to receive training on a school’s safety procedures also requires the information to be provided to supervisors of youth programs that use school buildings at nights or on weekends. Those groups would have to train all their volunteers and file a statement with the school assuring they did that.
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