New Jersey School Passive Consent Law Passed July 2nd, 2021
By: Matt McGovern
Student health behavior-related data has been difficult to obtain for New Jersey school districts for some time among students younger than 18 years old (minors). The primary reason for this is active consent laws that apply to health behavior surveys. Active consent laws mandate that only parents or legal guardians can grant permission for their children to participate in such surveys via a signature form authorizing participation. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of active permission reduces student participation rates by as much as 50 percent unless extraordinary follow up procedures are implemented.” This barrier has inhibited school districts’ capacity in many instances to evaluate health trends in respect to their school populations health behaviors such as drug use, sex, physical activity, nutrition, as well as other behaviors that may lead to intentional or unintentional injuries or violence.
To address this growing concern among school districts, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (District 7 – Burlington) has relentlessly advocated for passive consent. Most recently, on May 12th, 2021, he sponsored Assembly Bill Number 5597, with four co-sponsors: 1. Assemblywoman, Angelica Jimenez (District 32 – Bergen and Hudson), 2. Assemblywoman, Shanique Speight (District 29 – Essex), 3. Senator Joseph Vitale (District 19 – Middlesex), and 4. Senator Shirley Turner (District 15 – Hunterdon and Mercer). This legislation would enact passive consent laws in NJ schools, which would opt-in all students into filling out health behavior-related surveys. Parents and legal guardians would still be able to opt their child out from participating in such surveys if they choose to. For instance, they would be sent written notification of the survey by regular mail, electronic mail, or a written acknowledgement form to be delivered by the student at least two weeks prior to administration of the survey.
Thankfully, for those of us in the substance use prevention field, as well as for the public health of the student population under 18 in NJ for whom this bill applies to, the bill was passed in the Assembly and Senate. Shortly thereafter, it was signed into law by Governor Murphy on July 2nd, 2021. The bill will take effect 6 months from the date of enactment. In reference to this bill, Assemblyman Conaway affirms that, ‘by improving our dataset, by having an opt-out rather than an opt-in procedure, we look to see better laws and measures to combat the things which lead to poor health and bad outcomes.’ The information obtained through these surveys will be sent to the Department of Education and the Department of Health. The data will be utilized as a mechanism to generate public health initiatives and prevention programs to enhance the health and wellbeing of student populations. This law will facilitate school districts, as well as the Department of Education, and Department of Health to respond to health problems facing students and more importantly finding solutions to these issues. Hopefully, this bill will stop students from ‘falling through the cracks’ and lead to overall better health outcomes for our student population across the State of New Jersey. To read the bill in its entirety, please visit: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2020/Bills/A9999/5597_I2.PDF .