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Bills Add ASL to Accepted Languages, Authorize Study of Later-Start H.S. Classes

But Christie conditionally vetoes ‘recovery high schools’ for students with substance-abuse problems

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Bills calling for inclusion of American Sign Language as a world language in New Jersey public schools and another calling for a study of the impact of later start times for schools were signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie yesterday.

But Christie conditionally vetoed another education bill that would have set up a pilot program of alternative “recovery high schools” for students with substance-abuse problems.

The bill signings and vetoes were part of a wide-ranging package of bill announcements yesterday, including Christie’s vetoes of two pension-related bills that were also of great interest to public educators.

The education bills had a much lower profile, but a couple of them had been promoted by prominent Democrats and had gained their own attention.

The bill to study and recommend changing school-start times came from state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex). The bill would create a task force to study start times, particularly for high schools, and make recommendations for any potential changes in requirements and regulations to the state Department of Education.

Yesterday, Codey applauded Christie’s signing of the bill and said he hoped it would start an important discussion about the effects of having children start school so early in the morning.

“According to the research, we have it backwards; the younger students should be going to school earlier and the older students later,” said Codey in a statement.

“Recognizing the biological challenges teenagers face is critical to addressing their needs and optimizing conditions for improving their academic performance,” he added. “Insufficient sleep reduces a student’s ability to focus and do well in school, and our goal is to help New Jersey’s youth better compete with their peers beyond the high school years.”

The American Sign Language bill was more symbolic, since teaching it was already permitted and it is already taught in more than a dozen schools in the state. But there were some questions about whether it could be used to fulfill high school graduation requirements that students take at least one year of a world language. The bill explicitly includes ASL as one of the permitted languages.

“This new law will help hearing impaired students meet their graduation requirements, and remove some of the stigma often associated with hearing loss by encouraging all students to learn ASL,” said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the prime sponsors.

The other education bill to set up “recovery high schools” did not fare as well, although Christie’s conditional veto may leave room for a compromise.

The bill had been pushed by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who initially sought to open a charter high school for students with drug and alcohol problems. This bill would have created three pilot high schools instead that would have been studied as a model for possibly having such a school in every county.

Christie did not discount the idea outright, but said the concept should be left to local districts to implement.

“I am concerned … this proposal, as currently contemplated, could unnecessarily restrict access to these programs as a result of overly burdensome State oversight and regulation,” read the veto message.

“Instead, local school districts, which are best situated to understand the needs of their students and the merits of potential programs, should be responsible for the approval and oversight of new recovery programs,” Christie’s statement continued.

Lesniak last night said he would not comment until he could further review the veto message.

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