Bipartisan Measure Also Aims to Protect Public School Employees, Accessibility of Special Education for Students with Disabilities
To allow virtual and remote learning to meet the 180-day instruction requirement for school districts in cases of extended public health-related emergency school closures, Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli, Pamela Lampitt and Mila Jasey sponsor bipartisan legislation. The bill received final legislative approval 80-0 in the Assembly on Monday. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.
“We are at the point where school closures have had students learning from home for a while now,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem). “During these times and those ahead, ensuring school districts are equipped with the guidelines and flexibility for remote instruction when it needs to happen is crucial. At the end of the day, schools should never feel compelled to keep children in classes if they are safer learning from home.”
The bill (A-3904) would apply to closures of more than three consecutive days in response to a declared state of emergency, public health emergency, or when a directive from the appropriate health agency or officer is given.
It directs the Commissioner of Education to define virtual and remote instruction and to provide guidance for its use. Districts would also be given guidance on providing instruction to students with limited or no access to a computer, sufficient broadband or other technology needed for distance learning.
“The last thing we want is for the school year and students’ education to be disrupted. Putting legislation like this on the books is key to ensuring school preparedness,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “Whether we’re talking about the coronavirus or something else, this measure is important in helping schools develop a plan to navigate any major emergency that comes their way.”
Charter schools, renaissance school projects, county vocational school districts, county special services school districts and an approved private school for students with disabilities (APSSD) are also included in the bill.
Further provisions stipulate that the same educational opportunities be provided to students with disabilities. Special education and related services, including speech language services, counseling services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral services, may be delivered to students with disabilities through electronic communications or an online platform and as required by the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
“A child’s education has never been confined to the four walls of the classroom: it is every conversation had, every book read, every chance encounter with the previously unknown,” said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “In these unprecedented circumstances, virtual and remote learning have become the new norm; establishing these new parameters allows critical learning to continue at home, so no child falls behind.”
The bill also provides protections for public-school employees, both covered and not covered by a collective negotiations agreement, in addition to making provisions for the payments obligated under independent service contracts.
Assembly Republicans Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen, Passaic) and Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington) also sponsor the bill.