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7-25-12 Education and Related Issues in the News
Star Ledger - N.J. rated fourth best state in country to raise kids, survey says

Politickernj - Proposed judicial pension amendment fastracked by Senate

NJ Spotlight - Drawing the Line on School Discipline…Court decision on off-campus drinking may bring a feeling for what’s covered in new anti-bullying efforts

Star Ledger - N.J. rated fourth best state in country to raise kids, survey says

Politickernj - Proposed judicial pension amendment fastracked by Senate

NJ Spotlight - Drawing the Line on School Discipline…Court decision on off-campus drinking may bring a feeling for what’s covered in new anti-bullying efforts

Star Ledger - N.J. rated fourth best state in country to raise kids, survey says

Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 6:20 AM Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 6:22 AM

By Susan K. Livio/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — New Jersey is the fourth best state in the nation to raise children, inching up one spot from last year because of its successes in the classroom, according to the latest Kids Count report evaluating family health, economic stability and educational achievement.

New Jersey’s students surpassed their peers for their proficiency on reading and math tests, preschool attendance, and for the relatively modest number of students who didn’t graduate high school on time — 15 percent compared to 24 percent of students nationally, according to the survey released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Garden State ranked second for its educational achievements in 2010 and 2011, behind Massachusetts, the report said.

The state’s commitment to expanding preschool to 35 impoverished school districts made a big difference in student achievement, said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which publishes a state-focused version of the Kids Count report every spring.

"The data continue to show that when we devote our attention and resources to an issue, we see progress," she said.

But New Jersey ranked just 19th best for economic well-being, partly because of the growing percentage of families living in poverty, struggling with rent payments and not being able to hold a steady job, according to the report. Nearly half of all children (48 percent) lived in housing that consumed more than 30 percent of a family’s monthly earnings. Nationally, 41 percent of kids lived in "high cost" housing.

"Children in poor families are more likely to suffer health problems and less likely to do well in school. These children need additional support to grow up safe, health and educated," Zalkind said.

On average, a family of four needs to earn $44,226 a year — twice the federal poverty rate — to pay for housing, food, transportation, health care and child care, the report said. By this measure, 14 percent of New Jersey’s kids lived in poverty in 2010, up from 12 percent in 2005.

Kids Count ranked New Jersey fifth best for health care accessibility, and ninth best for family and community stability, based on factors like the teen birth rate.

Over all, only New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont ranked higher than New Jersey.


Politickernj - Proposed judicial pension amendment fastracked by Senate

By Politicker Staff | July 24th, 2012 - 10:32pm

Making good on his promise that today's Supreme Court decision on judicial pension would not be the last word on the topic, Senate President Steve Sweeney has scheduled a vote Monday on a proposal to amend the consititution to include judges in last year's pension overhaul.

The high court ruled today that a judge's salary may not be reduced while still on the bench and that increasing a pension contribution amounted to a pay cut.

The proposed amendment would allow additional deductions for benefits from a judge's salary.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in committee on Thursday and will go before the full Senate Monday at 10 a.m., according to a Senate source.

NJ Spotlight - Drawing the Line on School Discipline…Court decision on off-campus drinking may bring a feeling for what’s covered in new anti-bullying efforts

By John Mooney, July 25, 2012 in Education

One of the trickier tasks for schools is deciding where they can draw the line in controlling and disciplining their students for misbehavior, even when it happens well off school grounds or outside school hours.

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Yesterday, the state Appellate Court added some legal lines to the debate, saying schools have some powers outside their walls but with some clear conditions.

The case had to do with underage drinking and drug use, but some experts said it speaks to any number of possibilities, including the state’s new landmark anti-bullying law.

The Ramapo-Indian Hills Regional High School District in Bergen County enacted a policy in 2009 that prevents students from participating in extracurricular activities if they are caught drinking or using drugs under any circumstance -- even far from school or over a weekend.

This policy required students to sign a consent form before playing sports or joining a club. Rather than sign, however, one district student challenged the regulation in court as an infringement of her rights.

How the Appellate Court Ruled

In its ruling, the Appellate Court reaffirmed a ruling by the state’s education commissioner at the time and found that the board had no authority under current statute or regulations to hand down such a policy.

Among other arguments, the court said that the board had failed to make a direct connection between students’ outside actions and the operation of their schools, what it called a critical “nexus” required in defining the scope of a district’s powers.

"Under [Ramapo’s policy], a student could be suspended from participating in extracurricular activities as the result of receiving a citation for littering on a municipal sidewalk," the court wrote.

The decision did not come as much of a surprise, officials said yesterday. Nor did it change much in terms of what districts do now after the previous ruling in the case by former state acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks.

In that decision, Hendricks shot down the Ramapo board and put districts on notice statewide as to what would be allowed in their policies. It was that decision by the commissioner that was under appeal by the state court.

But what has somewhat changed since then is the extent of local districts’ powers granted by last year's landmark anti-bullying legislation, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and one of the toughest in the nation.

Under the new law, schools are required to follow specific procedures and guidelines in investigating and acting on complaints of bullying and intimidation, inside school and out.

The key language in the law reads that a school can take action on cases of outside bullying if it finds the bullying “substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students.”

The Ramapo school board had raised the statute in its argument, claiming it gave the board the authority to act on outside behavior. But the appellate court came back and said the “nexus” or direct connection was not proven.

"Nothing in these statutes abrogate the requirement that there be a nexus between the student's conduct and the orderly administration of the school," the court wrote yesterday.

Lawyers from both sides said it was an important line for the state court to uphold, but there was likely more to be decided in the case of the bullying law.

Ruling Disappoints NJ School Boards

Overall, the state’s school boards association, which filed a brief in the case, said it was disappointed in the decision. The decision can still be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“Participation in extracurricular activities is a privilege, not a right,” said Frank Belluscio, the association’s spokesman. “We believe that state regulations give a school district the authority to restrict participation in extracurricular activities due to a student’s out-of school conduct that is dangerous and/or disruptive.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey also filed a "friend of the court" brief, arguing that Ramapo had overstepped its bounds. "It was vast overreaching of school district into the lives of students and their families," said Edward Barocas, the ACLU’s legal director.

He said the bullying law proved an important piece of the case, in that it laid out the need for a district to prove the connection. He said under the new law, even a case of harassment at summer camp could rightfully be acted on by a school, "if it leads to a negative interaction at school," he said.

"Actions unrelated to the operation of a school should not be subject to discipline," he said.

David Rubin is board counsel to Piscataway schools and a half dozen others, and he said the Ramapo decision in itself may prove pretty narrow to this one case. "And it doesn’t say a lot more than what we knew already," he said.

But as the anti-bullying coordinator for Piscataway schools, responsible for handling bullying accusations, Rubin said the ruling speaks to the difficulty of decisions made regularly as to whether outside harassment can become a school’s business.

"We apply the test all the time," he said. "Many if not most of our decisions deal with off-campus behavior, and my rule of thumb is that whatever happens after hours or outside school, will it be something that affects that kid [who was targeted] as he steps onto the school bus the next morning?"

If it is, there can be grounds for district action, he said. If the harassment left the student unaffected, it is more difficult. "If it rolled off his back as soon as it happened, it is maybe something we can bring up with parents but not something we would necessarily discipline," he said.

Others concurred that the line is likely still to be set by the courts.

"We deal with these all the time, and it is very difficult to make that call to when it crosses the line to affect the school setting," said Jonathan Busch of Schwartz Simon Edelstein & Celso, the Whippany law firm that represents about 100 districts in one form or another.

"There is not always a nexus," he said. "In my opinion, it really does need to be substantial."

Yet as more and more cases arise in schools, others said it is likely one or more of them will eventually end up for the courts to decide.

"At some point, we’ll have darker lines drawn," Busch said. "Not sure this case got there yet."



Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608

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