NJDOE News

USCO POLICY
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q: What is the definition of a "school?"

A: For the purposes of the USCO, a school in New Jersey is within the meaning of a school facility, which, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:26-1.2, means and includes any structure, building or facility used wholly or in part for educational purposes by a district or community provider, and facilities that physically support such structures, buildings and facilities, such as district wastewater treatment facilities, power generating facilities, steam generating facilities and other central service facilities, including central kitchens and maintenance shops, but shall exclude other facilities as defined in N.J.A.C. 6A:26-1.2.

Q: What is the definition of school grounds?

A: "School grounds" means and includes land and school facilities, as defined in N.J.A.C. 6A:16-1.2, when used for the provision of academic or extracurricular programs by the district. School grounds includes playgrounds and recreational places. School grounds also includes that portion of land, school facilities and other facilities owned by local municipalities, private entities or other individuals during those times when the district has exclusive use of a portion of such land, school facilities or other facilities for the provision of academic or extracurricular programs.

Q: What if there is not another school in the LEA for the transferring student(s)?

A: LEAs are encouraged, but not required, to explore other appropriate options such as an agreement with a neighboring LEA to accept transfer students.

Q: If a student elects to transfer to a safe public school, is the transfer permanent or temporary?

A: The transfers may be permanent or temporary, but must be in effect as long as the student’s original school is identified as persistently dangerous. In making the determination of whether the transfer should be permanent or temporary, LEAs should consider the educational needs of the student, as well as other factors affecting the student’s ability to succeed if returned to the transferring school. For example, an LEA may want to consider allowing a student to complete his or her education through the highest grade level at the receiving school.

Q: What types of corrective actions may be taken if schools are designated as persistently dangerous or at-risk of being persistently dangerous?

A: Corrective actions should be based on an analysis of the problems faced by the school and address the issues that resulted in the school being identified as persistently dangerous. Some examples of corrective actions include hiring additional staff to supervise students in common areas; increased instructional activities in areas such as conflict resolution; working with law enforcement officials to identify and eliminate gang-related activities; in-service training of teachers and administrators concerning consistent enforcement of school discipline policies and the prevention and defusion of tensions and hostilities; conducting and addressing the findings of school climate assessments; limiting access to campuses; and hiring of security personnel or purchase of security equipment.

Q: What resources are available to help schools implement corrective actions?

A: Consistent with applicable requirements such as those contained in the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA) Principles of Effectiveness (Section 4115 of NCLB), SDFSCA formula grant funds may be used to implement planned corrective actions. LEAs may consider using the flexibility provided under Section 6123(b) of the NCLB, which provides for the transfer, under certain circumstances, of funds from one NCLB program to another. State and local resources also may be used to help schools implement corrective actions.

Q: How does the policy apply to charter schools?

A: While the statute permits affected students to be afforded the opportunity to attend a public charter school, in addition to a safe public elementary school or secondary school within the local educational agency, the application of this provision is limited in New Jersey in the following ways. In summary, transfers under the policy could only occur as a part of the charter school’s "equal opportunity" selection process and among charter schools administered under the same managing authority.

  1. Since pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-3 charter schools in New Jersey are considered public LEAs, operated independently of a local board of education, transfers may only take place among charter schools within the LEA. Therefore, students may be permitted to transfer to another charter school that is administered under the same managing authority of the charter school, but are not permitted to transfer to a school in the local public school district administered by a local board of education.
  2. However, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-7, a charter school must be open to all students on a space available basis and may not discriminate in its admission policies or practices (although it may establish reasonable criteria to evaluate prospective students), and, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-8, if there are more applications to enroll in the charter school than there are spaces available, the charter school must select students to attend using a random selection process for enrollment.

Q: If a student elects to transfer to a safe public school, are resources available to help cover the costs (e.g., transportation costs) associated with the transfer?

A: The Unsafe School Choice Option statute does not authorize resources specifically to help cover these costs. However, under certain circumstances Federal funds may be used. For example, funds under SDFSCA (Title IV, Part A of the NCLB) may be used to establish safe zones of passage to and from school to ensure that students travel safely on their way to school and on their way home [Section 4115(b)(2)(E)(v)]. In addition, SDFSCA funds may be used to help cover costs such as tuition or transportation related to the Unsafe School Choice Option or expansion of public school choice [Section 5121(8) and 5131(12 and (25)].

Q: May LEAs offer students the transfer option if they do not meet the criteria for determining victims of violent criminal offenses under the USCO Policy Provision II?

A: The intent of the USCO Policy Provision II is to provide safety and security for students and to prevent unnecessary or extended interruptions to student learning. Therefore, while not required, schools are encouraged to consider offering the school choice option as one response for providing relief to students whose victimization has affected their safety and abilities to learn.

Schools should consider applications of this policy to the legislation (N.J.S.A. 18A:37-13 et seq.) enacted on September 6, 2002 requiring each school district to adopt by September 1, 2003, in cooperation with community representation, a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying on school property, school-sponsored functions and on school busses. Under the statute, schools are required to establish the range of ways in which a school will respond once an incident of harassment, intimidation or bullying is identified [N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15(3)(b)(7)], and are encouraged to establish bullying prevention programs and other initiatives involving school staff, students, administrators, volunteers, parents, law enforcement and community members [N.J.S.A. 18A:37-17(5)(a)]. To assist each school district in developing policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying on school property, the legislation also required the Commissioner of Education to develop and issue a model policy applicable to grades kindergarten through 12, by December 1, 2002. The Model Policy Prohibiting Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying on School Property, at School-Sponsored Functions and on School Busses can be found on the NJDOE’s website at http://www.state.nj.us/njded/parents/bully.htm.

Schools should consider using the school choice option as one response to incidents of victimization. Additionally, schools should develop and implement appropriate strategies for addressing the circumstances that contribute to or support victimization, as well as consistently and proactively manage individuals who have victimized students.

Schools are encouraged to promote the importance of school safety and respond to the needs of students and staff. In 2001, the following statutes that support safe schools were signed into law: P.L. 2001, c. 298 – Annual School Violence Awareness Week and P.L. 2001, c. 299 – Public Hearings and Filing of Hearing Transcripts on School Violence.

P.L. 2001, c. 298 – Annual School Violence Awareness Week supplements chapter 36 of Titles 18A of the New Jersey Statutes and designates School Violence Awareness Week in the State of New Jersey. Pursuant to the law, school districts are required to provide an opportunity for students, parents and school district and law enforcement personnel to discuss methods for keeping schools safe from violence; to create school safety plans; and to recognize students in need of help. Districts are required to organize activities to prevent school violence, including, but not limited to, age-appropriate opportunities for student discussion on conflict resolution, issues of student diversity and tolerance. Law enforcement personnel shall be invited to join members of the teaching staff in the discussions. Programs shall also be provided for school board employees that are designated to help them recognize warning signs of school violence and to instruct them on recommended conduct during an incident of school violence.

P.L. 2001, c. 299 – Public Hearings and Filing of Hearing Transcripts on School Violence amends Section 1 of Public Law 1982, chapter 163 (Chapter 18A:17-46) to provide that at a public hearing in the third week in October of each year, the superintendent of schools must report to the board of education all acts of violence and vandalism which occurred in the school district during the previous school year. The public hearing shall be transcribed and kept on file by the board of education, which is required to make the transcript available to the public. The board of education must also file the transcript with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for review.