In letters sent to New Jersey State Legislators and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), Education Law Center and 13 other organizations advocating for students’ rights shared serious concerns that a recently enacted law deviates from effective practices and has the potential to negatively impact students of color and students with disabilities.

The threat assessment teams law, introduced as A4075 and codified at N.J.S.A. 18A:17-43.4 to 43.6, requires every public, charter, and renaissance school to establish a threat assessment team by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

The information in the letters draws heavily on research and points to problems that must be addressed in the law, including: the targeting of students, not behaviors; mandatory inclusion of law enforcement in all cases; and the anticipated disparate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. The letters note that better funded mental health services, social emotional learning initiatives, and other measures improving school climate and culture make schools safer.

ELC and allies propose specific amendments to improve the law, including:

  • Making use of existing Intervention and Referral Services, as well as School Safety Teams established by the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights;
  • Narrowing the grounds for which a threat assessment referral can be made to prevent profiling students;
  • Ensuring the threat assessment process does not supplant legal and regulatory standards;
  • Limiting law enforcement involvement to specified situations;
  • Improving student privacy protections; and
  • Adding a data reporting requirement.

The letter to legislators was sent to each of the law’s original sponsors and to the Executive Directors of the Senate and Assembly Majority Offices. The letter to the NJDOE was sent to Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan and Director of the Office of School Preparedness & Emergency Planning Jeff Gale. That letter noted that the Department has not yet publicly announced guidelines for the implementation of threat assessment teams, despite the law’s requirement that these teams be up and running by September. Additionally, the guidelines must be proposed via formal rulemaking procedures complying with the New Jersey Administrative Procedure Act.

In both letters, ELC urged state officials to actively seek out stakeholders’ input when amending the law and creating implementing rules.

“ELC is urging the Legislature and the NJDOE to engage community members, mental health professionals, and school staff to ensure that the law and regulations addressing ‘threat assessment teams’ protect students’ rights,” said ELC attorney and Powell Legal Fellow, Meredith Kilburn, Esq. “Unfortunately, a flawed law was rushed through the Legislature in an understandable effort to improve student safety, but it’s not too late to make sure this law does not harm students.”

“While ACLU-NJ commends lawmakers for prioritizing the safety of students, it is vital that we revisit the creation of ‘threat assessment teams’ to ensure this tool will not disproportionately target and harm students of color and students with disabilities,” said Joe Johnson, Esq., Policy Counsel for the ACLU of New Jersey, which also signed the letters. “ACLU-NJ looks forward to further conversations on how to best create safe learning environments for all students.”

“It’s well-documented that school discipline is not implemented or enforced equally,” said Marleina Ubel, Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), another signer. “Children of color, children with disabilities, and Black girls, specifically, are disciplined more frequently and more harshly than their peers. It’s imperative that ‘threat assessment teams’ do not single out students who are already suffering the consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x 240

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240