ACNJ applauds new legislation signed into law on September 6 by Governor Christie that bans schools in New Jersey from expelling students in grades kindergarten through second grade. The new law also strictly limits schools from giving students out-of-school suspensions unless the conduct is dangerous to others.
ACNJ thanks bill sponsors Senators Teresa Ruiz and Shirley Turner and Assemblypersons Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberley for this critical step to improving school discipline for young children.
But the work surrounding the bill is still unfinished. Limiting suspensions and expulsions is important, but school districts, educators, and the New Jersey Department of Education will need to determine how to implement the law in a way that addresses the causes of student misbehavior.
The new law requires that school districts identify students in preschool through grade two with behavioral problems and provide supports for these students. However, many districts may lack these supports for students, and the clock is ticking for the law to take effect starting next school year (fall 2017).
The bill expands on existing bans on expulsion and out-of-school suspension for state-funded preschool in New Jersey. New Jersey joins states such as California, Connecticut and Oregon that have limited or eliminated suspensions for children in the early grades.
ACNJ supports the new law; suspension and expulsion are inappropriate for young children. Keeping young children out of school leads to lost learning and does nothing to solve the cause of a child’s behavior. Thanks to advocates and legislators from around the state, the new law represents a step in the right direction.
The next step is for district and state education leaders to determine how to educate staff and faculty about the legal change, how to ensure that appropriate supports are put in place, and how to get resources for behavioral issues to schools and students.
States such as Connecticut have developed early childhood consultation partnerships that have succeeded in helping preschool and childcare providers reduce disruptive behavior without suspending or expelling students. The Connecticut program takes a team of community-based social workers to help teachers address problem behaviors early and provide support for families.
ACNJ encourages educators and community members from across the state to take the following steps:
• Educate yourself and others about the new law, which takes effect during school year 2017-18.
• Ask how your district will provide supports for young students who misbehave.
• Stay informed about what services will be provided and how to refer students to additional resources.
Additionally, families who need behavioral health services for their child’s behavior can contact New Jersey’s Children’s System of Care at 1-877-652-7624.