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Let American Sign Language Count for Graduation Requirements, Bill Proposes

Assembly education committee passes sign-language measure, as well as bill to set up ‘recovery school’ for kids coming out of rehab

american sign language

American Sign Language has long been taught in at least a few of New Jersey’s public schools, and now a bill nearing passage would allow it to be used to meet the state’s world-language requirement for graduation.

The Assembly education committee went back to business yesterday with a host of bills, including several to set up pilot programs and advisory committees.

The sign language bill before the committee comes almost 20 years after New Jersey’s decision to list ASL as one of the languages covered by the state’s Common Curriculum Content Standards.

By one count in 2010, about 20 districts at the time taught ASL in their schools.

But there have been questions as to whether it qualified to fulfill the state’s requirement that every high school graduate take at least a year of a language other than English or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English.

The bill would not require schools to offer ASL classes, only to count them toward credits if they are provided.

The Assembly committee yesterday unanimously backed the bill with no discussion, after the Senate in February passed the measure 36-0. It moves next to a full Assembly vote, where passage looks likely.

“This is one of those bills where I say, ‘You mean we don’t do that already?’ ” said Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), the committee’s chairman. “To me this is common sense.”

The bill was one of several before the committee as it met for the first time since the annual break in the legislative session for state budget deliberations.

The meeting had little of the controversy and rancor that marked some recent ones, in which the state’s testing and teacher evaluation systems were up for debate.

Instead, virtually all of the bills heard yesterday were recommended for passage with little or no dissent:

A bill was passed that would set up pilot programs in the north, central, and southern parts of the state that would establish so-called recovery schools for students overcoming drug and alcohol abuse.

Sponsored on the Senate side by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the bill would replicate small alternative schools already in place and extend them to help more students returning from rehabilitation programs.

“When they go into rehab and then return to school settings, 90 percent of them are offered drugs or alcohol on their first day back,” Lesniak testified. “A key foundation to recovery is to remove yourself from the people, places, and things from whence you come, thus the concept of the recovery school.”

The bill has passed the Senate unanimously.

A bill cleared committee that would create an Out-of-School Time Advisory committee to study programs offered before and after school, as well as in the summer, and to recommend policies and best practices.

The development of after-school programs has been a long-running issue in the state, with various initiatives launched to expand and further fund them. The commission would be charged with issuing recommendations.

A bill was voted out to require local recreation programs and camps to have heart defibrillators at youth athletic events, and also to require training of public school personnel on the use of the defibrillators.

The bill was recommended for approval by the committee, but with some concerns raised to the potential costs.

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