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Bills to create social-emotional learning program, address substitute teacher shortages now law

On May 11, Gov. Murphy signed several education-related measures into law. In a press release, the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) said it supported both measures throughout the legislative process:

Pilot program for SEL (social-emotional learning) in Early Elementary Years establishes a five-year Clayton Model pilot program in the New Jersey Department of Education to provide a social-emotional learning program to elementary school students attending selected public schools.

The pilot program would be based on the Clayton Model, which is a responsive, trauma-informed intervention program for student development that was created by the Clayton School District in Gloucester County, according to the press release.

Under the bill, the New Jersey commissioner of education would select three counties to participate in the pilot program: a county in the northern area of the state; a county in the central area; and Gloucester County to represent the southern area.

After each county is selected, the commissioner, in collaboration with the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden, would select a maximum of 10 schools in each county to participate in the pilot program, according to the press release.

“This program has been successful in helping students with special needs get the support they need to attain a quality education and gain the living skills that will help them for their entire lives,” state Senate President Steve Sweeney was quoted as saying in the press release.

“It is a means of advancing their academic performance and life skills. The controlled expansion of the program will make this terrific model available to students throughout the state,” he said.

Easing substitute teacher requirements is designed to address substitute teacher shortages and increase the pool of substitute teachers, according to the NJSBA.

The measure allows college students who have accumulated at least 30 college credits (sophomores and beyond) and are at least 20 years old to serve as substitute teachers until June 30, 2023.

The current standard is 60 credits (juniors and beyond). Under the bill, the Department of Education would provide a final report by no later than June 30, 2024 as to whether the 30-credit standard should be allowed to continue.

Additionally, the bill increases the coverage provided by substitute teachers by extending the amount of time, from 20 to 40 days, that those individuals may teach in the same classroom during public health emergencies, according to the press release.

During committee deliberations, the NJSBA was able to have language inserted clarifying school districts may establish additional criteria for substitute teachers within their district, according to the press release.

“Substitute teaching provides valuable experience to college students of all majors, offering an opportunity to serve their communities, learn more about our education system and earn money,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, upon the bill’s approval.

“This new law will expand eligibility to more higher education students in the state, ensuring we have the staffing we need in our classrooms and increasing job opportunities for those working toward a degree,” Ruiz said.

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