ASSEMBLY, No. 4264

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

221st LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED MAY 2, 2024

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  MICHAEL VENEZIA

District 34 (Essex)

Assemblyman  BENJIE E. WIMBERLY

District 35 (Bergen and Passaic)

Assemblyman  WILLIAM B. SAMPSON, IV

District 31 (Hudson)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywomen Morales, Sumter and Flynn

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Establishes student-athlete mental health specialists in school districts and public institutions of higher education; creates student-athlete mental health registry; makes appropriation.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act  concerning student-athlete mental health, supplementing chapters 40 and 3B of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes, and making an appropriation.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.  As used in sections 1 through 6 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill):

     “Multi-sport student-athlete” means a student-athlete participating in more than one Statewide interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program.                

     “Season” means the time that a student-athlete participates in activities associated with a Statewide interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program organized pursuant to  section 1 of P.L.1979, c.172 (C.18A:11-3).

     “Student-athlete” means any student enrolled in a public school in this State who is a participant in an interscholastic sports program or intramural sports program organized by the school.

 

     2.  a.  A school district that is a member of any voluntary association, pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1979, c.172 (C.18A:11-3), which oversees activities associated with a Statewide interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program shall appoint a student-athlete mental health specialist.

     (1) The school district may appoint a school guidance counselor, school psychologist, or another individual similarly trained that is currently employed in the school district as the student-athlete mental health specialist provided that individual is a State-licensed or State-certified mental health professional qualified pursuant to State law to provide mental health services to children and adolescents.

     (2) If no individual meeting this criteria is currently employed by the school district, the district shall appoint an individual that is a State-certified school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, or other State-licensed or State-certified mental health professional qualified pursuant to State law to provide mental health services to children and adolescents.

     (3) An individual appointed as a student-athlete mental health specialist shall be required to obtain certification and annual training pursuant to section 4 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), and hold a current certification in Mental Health First Aid from the National Council for Mental Wellness.

     b.  The  student-athlete mental health specialist shall identify mental health stressors affecting student-athletes, monitor student-athletes’ mental wellness, and provide student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, and school physicians with mental health resources. The student-athlete mental health specialist shall:

     (1)  meet with each student-athlete three times during the student-athlete’s season for the purpose of conducting a mental health screening.  The student-athlete mental health specialist shall meet with multi-sport student-athletes three times during each season of participation in an interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program; 

     (a)  a research-based screening tool shall be used to conduct the screening.  Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a student-athlete mental health specialist from using a self-administered screening tool as part of the screening. The screening shall include an analysis of the student-athlete’s mental state, monitor a student-athlete’s academics, and detect any changes from previous screenings;

     (b)  pursuant to the provisions of P.L.2001, c.364 (C.18A:36-34), the student-athlete mental health specialist shall obtain written informed consent from a student-athlete’s parent or guardian prior to the screening in a manner and form as prescribed by the Department of Education;

     (c)  a parent or guardian of a student-athlete may submit a written statement to the student-athlete mental health specialist to waive a student-athlete from the screening requirement; and  

     (d)  if a student-athlete’s parent or guardian has not provided informed consent pursuant to subsection (b) or submitted a written statement pursuant to subsection (c), the student-athlete shall be prohibited from participation in any interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program conducted pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1979, c.172 (C.18A:11-3);         

     (2)  meet weekly with any student-athlete that has sustained an injury that prevents participation in the interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program.  The weekly meetings shall continue until the student-athlete has been evaluated and receives written clearance from a licensed physician to participate in the athletic activity;

     (3) annually submit data collected from the screenings for each student-athlete to the department in a form and manner to be determined by the department, provided that any data forwarded shall be aggregated and shall not contain any identifying or confidential information with regard to any student-athlete as required under section 5 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill); and

     (4)  develop a student-athlete mental health policy for consideration and adoption by the board of education.  The policy shall be for use by a school physician; a person who coaches a public school district interscholastic sport, intramural sport, or cheerleading program; an athletic trainer involved in a public school interscholastic sports program, intramural sports program, or cheerleading program; and parents or guardians of student-athletes.

 

     3.  a.  The student-athlete mental health policy developed pursuant to paragraph (4) of subsection b. of section 2 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

     (1)  the recognition of the symptoms of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, substance abuse, and other mental health issues that may affect student-athletes;

     (2) screening tools for coaches, athletic trainers, school physicians, student-athletes, and parents and guardians of student-athletes;

     (3) guidance on techniques for reducing stressors that affect a student-athlete’s mental health;

     (4)   protocols for non-emergent referrals to qualified mental health practitioners;

     (5) procedures for emergency mental health situations;

     (6) transition care for a student-athlete that leaves intramural or interscholastic athletics by means of graduation, dismissal or suspension; and

     (7) resources and organizations that a student-athlete, coach, athletic trainer, and parent or guardian of a student-athlete can consult for additional services.

     b.  The student-athlete mental health specialist shall provide annual training on the student-athlete mental health policy to any person who coaches and is employed as an athletic trainer in a public school district interscholastic sport, intramural sport, or cheerleading program.

 

     4.  The Department of Education shall develop and implement a Student-Athlete Mental Health Specialist Certification Program.  A student-athlete mental health specialist appointed pursuant to section 2 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall be required to successfully complete the certification program every two years. The certification program shall include training, free of charge, to newly-appointed student-athlete mental health specialists in the areas identifying mental health issues that may affect student-athletes; mental health screening tools; techniques for reducing stressors in student-athletes; and any other areas deemed necessary by the department. The department also shall offer annual training sessions for certified student-athlete mental health specialists.  The department shall develop training modules in both traditional and online formats.

 

     5.  The Department of Education shall establish and maintain a central registry of the aggregated screening data submitted by each student-athlete mental health specialist as required pursuant to paragraph (3) of subsection b. of section 2 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).  The purpose of the registry shall be to review collected data to determine the stressors, rates, patterns, and trends of mental health disorders in student-athletes in order to develop evidence-based detection, prevention, and intervention protocols.  In establishing the registry, the department shall ensure that any student-athlete identifying information received pursuant to this section is confidential and protects student privacy.

 

     6.  Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a student-athlete mental health specialist employed by a school district shall not be held liable for damages resulting from any exercise of judgment or discretion in connection with the performance of their duties or for any good faith act or omission consistent with the provisions of sections 1 through  5 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill). Good faith shall not include willful misconduct, gross negligence, or recklessness.

 

     7.  There is appropriated from the General Fund to the Department of Education such funds as are necessary to implement the provisions and to effectuate the purposes of sections 1 through 5 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     8.  As used in sections 8 through 13 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill):

     “Pre-season” means activities associated with an intercollegiate athletic program prior to the official activities as organized by the public institution of higher education.

     “Post-season” means activities associated with the intercollegiate athletic program after completion of the official activities as organized by the public institution of higher education.

     “Season” means the time that a student-athlete participates in the official activities associated with an intercollegiate athletics program’s official activities as organized by the public institution of higher education. 

     “Student-athlete” means any student enrolled in a public institution of higher education who is a participant in intercollegiate athletics organized by the public institution of higher education.

 

     9.  a.  A public institution of higher education with an athletic department that participates in intercollegiate athletics shall be required to appoint two student-athlete mental health specialists.  A public institution of higher education shall appoint as a student-athlete mental health specialist an individual that is a State-licensed or State-certified mental health professional qualified pursuant to State law to provide mental health services to young adults.  An individual appointed as a student-athlete mental health specialist shall be required to obtain certification and annual training pursuant to section 11 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), and hold a current certification in Mental Health First Aid from the National Council for Mental Wellness.

     b.  The student-athlete mental health specialist shall identify mental health stressors affecting student-athletes, monitor student-athletes’ mental wellness, and provide student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, and athletic directors with mental health resources. The student-athlete mental health specialist shall:

     (1)  be easily accessible for student-athletes during the academic year. The public institution of higher education shall provide a student-athlete mental health specialist with an on-campus office;

     (2)  meet with each student-athlete assigned to the specialist three times during the student-athlete’s season for the purpose of conducting a mental health screening. If a student-athlete is a member of an intercollegiate athletic program that requires the student-athlete to participate in pre-season and post-season activities, the student-athlete mental health specialist shall meet with the student-athlete, as applicable, three times during the pre-season and three times during the post-season; 

     (a)  a research-based screening tool shall be used to conduct the screening. Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a student-athlete mental health specialist from using a self-administered screening tool as part of the screening. The screening shall include an analysis of the student-athlete’s mental state, monitor a student-athlete’s academics, and detect any changes from previous screenings;

     (b)  a student-athlete, or a student-athlete’s parent or guardian if the student-athlete is a minor, may submit a written statement to the student-athlete mental health specialist to waive the screening requirement; and  

     (c)  if a student-athlete, or student-athlete’s parent or guardian if the student-athlete is a minor, has not submitted a written statement pursuant to paragraph (b) of this subsection, the student-athlete shall be prohibited from participation in any intercollegiate athletics program organized by the public institution of higher education;

     (3)  meet weekly with any student-athlete that has sustained an injury that prevents participation in the intercollegiate athletic program. The weekly meetings shall continue until the student-athlete has been evaluated and receives written clearance from a licensed physician to participate in the athletic activity;

     (4)  annually submit data collected from the screenings for each student-athlete to the Secretary of Higher Education in a form and manner to be determined by the secretary, provided that any data forwarded shall be aggregated and shall not contain any identifying or confidential information with regard to any student-athlete as required under section 12 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill); and

     (5)  develop a student-athlete mental health policy for consideration and adoption by the governing board of the institution.  The policy shall be for use by a person who coaches an athletic program at a public institution of higher education; an athletic trainer employed by a public institution of higher education; an athletic director of a public institution of higher education; and student-athletes.

 

     10.  a.  The student-athlete mental health policy developed pursuant to paragraph (5) of subsection b. of section 9 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

     (1) the recognition of the symptoms of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, substance abuse, and other mental health issues that may affect student-athletes;

     (2) screening tools for coaches, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and student-athletes;

     (3) guidance on techniques for reducing stressors that affect a student-athlete’s mental health;

     (4)   protocols for non-emergent referrals to qualified mental health practitioners;

     (5) procedures for emergency mental health situations;

     (6) transition care for a student-athlete that leaves intramural or interscholastic athletics by means of graduation, dismissal or suspension; and

     (7) resources and organizations that a student-athlete, coach, athletic trainer, or athletic director can consult for additional services.

     b.  The student-athlete mental health specialist shall provide annual training on the student-athlete mental health policy to any person who coaches and is employed as an athletic trainer and athletic director at a public institution of higher education.

 

     11.  The Secretary of Higher Education shall develop and implement a Student-Athlete Mental Health Specialist Certification Program.  A student-athlete mental health specialist appointed pursuant to section 9 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall be required to successfully complete the certification program every two years. The certification program shall include training, free of charge, to newly-appointed student-athlete mental health specialists in the areas of detection of mental health issues that may affect student-athletes; mental health screening tools; techniques for reducing stressors in student-athletes; and any other areas as deemed necessary by the secretary.  The secretary also shall offer annual training sessions for certified student-athlete mental health specialists.  The secretary shall develop training modules in both traditional and online formats.

     12.  The Secretary of Higher Education shall establish and maintain a central registry of the aggregated screening data submitted by each student-athlete mental health specialist as required pursuant to paragraph (4) of subsection b. of section 9 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).  The purpose of the registry shall be to review collected data to determine the stressors, rates, patterns, and trends of mental health disorders in student-athletes in order to develop evidence-based detection, prevention, and intervention protocols.  In establishing the registry, the secretary shall ensure that any student-athlete identifying information received pursuant to this section is confidential and protects student privacy.

 

     13.  Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a student-athlete mental health specialist employed by a public institution of higher education shall not be held liable for damages resulting from any exercise of judgment or discretion in connection with the performance of their duties or for any good faith act or omission consistent with the provisions of sections 9 through 12 of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill). Good faith shall not include willful misconduct, gross negligence or recklessness.

 

     14.  There is appropriated from the General Fund to the Secretary of Higher Education such funds as are necessary to implement the provisions and to effectuate the purposes of sections 9 through 12 of P.L.    , c.  (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     15.  This act shall take effect immediately and shall first apply to the first full academic year following the date of enactment. 

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill requires the appointment of student-athlete mental health specialists at public school districts and public institutions of higher education.

     Under the bill, a school district that is a voluntary member of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) is required to appoint a student-athlete mental health specialist. A school district may appoint a school guidance counselor, school psychologist, or another individual similarly trained that is already employed by the district if the individual is a State-licensed or State-certified mental health professional. A school district also has an option under the bill to hire a State-licensed or State-certified mental health professional to fill this position. A person appointed to the student-athlete mental health specialist position is required to obtain certification in Mental Health First Aid and complete the “Student-Athlete Mental Health Specialist Certification” every two years. The bill requires the Department of Education to develop the certification program.

     Similarly, a public institution of higher education is required to appoint two student-athlete mental health specialists with individuals that are State-certified or State-licensed mental health professionals. A student-athlete mental health specialist at a public institution of higher education is also required to obtain certification in Mental Health First Aid and complete the “Student-Athlete Mental Health Specialist Certification” from the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education every two years. The secretary is required to develop the certification program.

     Under the bill, the student-athlete mental health specialist is required to screen each student-athlete, provide mental health support to student-athletes, and monitor the impact of sports-related injuries on student-athletes’ mental health.  At public institutions of higher education, the two student-athlete mental health specialists are also required to be easily accessible to student-athletes during the academic year and have on-campus offices.

     A student-athlete in high school or attending a public institution of higher education has the option to waive the screening requirement by submitting a written statement to the student-athlete mental health specialist. However, if the student-athlete refuses the screening but does not submit a written statement, the student-athlete will be prohibited from participating in the organized sport.

     Additionally, a student-athlete mental health specialist, at both the high school and college levels, is responsible for the creation of a student-athlete mental health policy that: 1) recognizes the symptoms of mental health disorders that may affect student-athletes; 2) establishes mental health screening tools; 3) provides guidance on techniques for reducing stressors; 4) establishes protocols for non-emergent mental health referrals and emergent mental health situations; 5) creates a plan for transition care for students-athletes that leave the program; and 6) lists additional mental health resources and organizations that a student-athlete can consult for additional services.

     Under the bill, the department is required to establish a central registry of the aggregated screening data collected by a student-athlete mental health specialist for student-athletes in each school district. The secretary is required to create and maintain a similar registry from the aggregate data collected for student-athletes at public institutions of higher education. The purpose of these registries are to determine the stressors, rates, patterns, and trends of mental health disorders in student-athletes in order to develop evidence-based detection, prevention, and intervention protocols.  The bill stipulates that, in establishing both registries, the department and secretary are required to ensure that any student identifying information remains confidential. 

     Under the bill, student-athlete mental health specialists are not subject to liability for exercising their judgment or discretion in connection with the performance of their duties or for any good faith act or omission related to the requirements set forth in the bill. 

     Finally, the bill makes an appropriation from the General Fund to the department for the costs of implementing the provisions affecting high school student-athletes and to the secretary for the costs associated with implementing the provisions affecting college-aged student-athletes.

     The student-athlete mental health specialist position is created at the high school and college levels to improve student-athlete mental wellness. It is the intent of this bill to address mental health issues that affect high school and college student-athletes. Studies have indicated that student-athletes are less likely than their non-athlete peers to seek counseling and other professional help services. This bill seeks to remove the stigma of seeking mental health services by requiring the student-athlete mental health specialist to routinely meet with  student-athletes, provide mental health support to student-athletes, and monitor the impact of sports-related injuries on student-athletes’ mental health.