On Tuesday, Feb. 13, the Assembly Education Committee held a hearing focused on the subject of sexual misconduct and abuse in New Jersey’s schools.  The committee received testimony from invited guests regarding the issue, including district practices for reporting sexual misconduct committed by students and school personnel; compliance with federal reporting requirements; and public dissemination of this information.

Invited speakers included representatives of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, who discussed various legal requirements, procedures and best practices that are intended to foster a positive school climate.  Another guest discussed her personal experience on the dangers and consequences of “sexting.”  The final speaker was from the NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CASA) who provided testimony on the issue of sexual violence and its impact on victims, as well as a description of the sexual assault intervention and prevention infrastructure currently in place in New Jersey. An archived transcript of the hearing can be accessed through the NJ Legislature’s website here.

The committee also considered a handful of bills related to the topic.  Three measures focus on student education, while another is intended to prevent the hiring of employees who have a history of sexual misconduct or child abuse. The bills described below, all of which were supported by NJSBA, were approved by the committee and may proceed to the full Assembly for a floor vote.

A-769 requires school districts to incorporate age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness, and prevention education, in grades preschool through 12 as part of the student learning standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

A-2189 requires school districts to include instruction on the consequences of distributing sexually explicit images through electronic means as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

A-2190 requires school districts to incorporate instruction in grades six through 12 on the law and meaning of consent for physical contact and sexual activity as part of the student learning standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

S-414/A-3381 requires school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools, and contracted service providers to review the employment history of prospective employees who will have regular contact with students to ascertain allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct.

As previously reported in School Board Notes, the legislation seeks to end the practice of allowing school employees with a history of instances or allegations of sexual misconduct or child abuse to move from one job to another without their new employers having any knowledge of such history. The legislation requires school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools, and contracted service providers (“employers”) to review the employment history of prospective employees to ascertain allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct. It explicitly prohibits such employers from hiring a person serving in a position which involves regular contact with students unless the employer conducts a review of the employment history of the applicant by contacting former and current employers, and requesting information regarding child abuse and sexual misconduct allegations.

When seeking employment in a school setting, applicants will be required to answer three questions regarding whether the applicant has ever:

  • Been the subject of any child abuse or sexual misconduct investigation by an employer, law enforcement, or any state agency (unless the allegations were false or the incident was not substantiated);
  • Been disciplined, discharged, non-renewed, asked to resign, etc. while allegations were pending/under investigation, or due to an adjudication/finding; or
  • Had a license/certification suspended while allegations pending/under investigation, or due to an adjudication/finding.

A prospective employer would then be required to contact all of the applicant’s previous employers in order to ascertain whether the applicant’s answers to the questions above are accurate. If an applicant or previous employer provides an affirmative response to any of the questions, the prospective employer would need to follow up with the previous employer and obtain additional information before making a hiring decision.

The bill also would prohibit confidential separation agreements between school districts and employees that would have the effect of suppressing any information related to investigations or findings of sexual misconduct or child abuse by an employee.

The bills advanced by the Assembly Education Committee added an amendment stipulating that prospective employers would only have to consider an applicant’s employment history for the previous 20 years.

The NJSBA has been publicly supporting the measure since it began moving through the Legislature last month, as it seeks to protect the health and well-being of New Jersey’s school-age children. The NJSBA has successfully obtained several amendments to the legislation that will help school districts implement the legislation’s requirements in an efficient and effective manner. The NJSBA reiterated its support in testimony before the committee on Tuesday.

S-414 unanimously passed the full Senate earlier this month.  Both S-414 and A-3381 may now be posted for a vote before the full Assembly.  If passed, the bill will return to the Senate for concurrence with Assembly amendments before heading to the governor’s desk.  If signed into law in its current form, the bill will go into effect on the first day of the second month following enactment.

 

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