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June 23, 2017

N.J. Assembly approves bill requiring students to learn how to talk to police

A bill that requires New Jersey school districts to teach its students how to interact with law enforcement unanimously passed through the state Assembly on Thursday.

The bill, which had been approved by the Assembly Education Committee with amendments last week, would teach students how to talk to law enforcement with "mutual cooperation and respect."

The bill's primary sponsor, New Jersey Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic), told NBC News in a Thursday report that the bill can help rebuild trust in police among communities.

"This is a lesson many parents already teach to their children," she said, referring to interactions with law enforcement. "Making it part of the school curriculum is the next logical step."

But the proposal has its critics.

New Jersey-based teacher Zelli Imani, for one, described the bill to NBC News as "victim-blaming."

"This legislation does not empower young people, especially those living in brown and black communities," he said. "Instead, it empowers law enforcement by allowing them to continue to evade accountability for abuse and misconduct while forcing the burden on the public."

Portia Allen-Kyle, a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, told NBC that law enforcement officers should be receiving more instruction – not the other way around.

But she approved of having schools teach their students about what their rights are when they deal with police. The Assembly Education Committee added that provision to the bill, along with other amendments.

School districts would be expected to start teaching students how to talk to law enforcement from kindergarten to fourth grade, and a more "rigorous" curriculum would be in place for fifth through 12th grade, according to a state legislature statement.

Under the bill, the state's Department of Education would work with an advisory committee to launch a curriculum around the requirement.

Introduced in January 2016, the bill was sent to the Senate for consideration Thursday.

If the state ultimately adopts it, the curriculum would take effect at the start of the 2018-19 school year.