On Monday, Nov. 26, the Assembly Education Committee advanced a package of bills aimed at protecting New Jersey’s students from sexual misconduct and child abuse.  The package includes measures that would increase penalties for inappropriate behavior by school employees, require aspiring educators to receive training on sexual abuse and misconduct, strengthen data collection and reporting processes, and create a task force that would make additional recommendations on ways to combat sexual misconduct in schools.

All of the bills approved on Monday have the support of the NJSBA and are likely to reach the governor’s desk in the weeks ahead.  Below is summary of each measure.

Enhanced Penalties for Failing to ReportA-850/S-641 upgrades the penalty for failing to report an act of sexual abuse against a child to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Under current law, failure to report an act of child abuse (including sexual abuse) constitutes a disorderly persons offense, which carries a term of imprisonment for up to 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Under this bill, failure to report an act of sexual abuse would be deemed a fourth degree crime, which carries a penalty of up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Criminalizing Sex with Adult StudentsA-1909/A-4404/S-2709 provide that certain persons who commit an act of sexual penetration or contact with students who are at least 18 but less than 22 years old are guilty of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact. Current law already makes it illegal for an individual to engage in such activity with anyone under the age of 18 over whom the individual has supervisory or disciplinary authority.  Under this bill, a person would be guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who is 18 years old or older and less than 22 years old if: (a) the victim is a student in a school where the actor is a teaching staff member, substitute teacher, school bus driver, other school employee, contracted service provider, or volunteer; and (b) the actor has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim. Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to ten years, or a fine of up to $15,000, or both. 

Retaining Surveillance FootageA-4199/S-2715 requires that the state’s Attorney General, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education, develop a protocol establishing policies regarding the retention of video footage from school surveillance systems. The protocol would address matters such as the amount of time that the video footage may be retained; measures to be taken to limit access to the footage; and compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Task Force on Child Sexual Abuse A-4403/S-2707 establishes a task force within the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in this state, including recommendations for school policies and training that address the sexual abuse of children. NJSBA would have a representative on the task force.

Training for Teaching CandidatesA-4405/S-2711 requires that all candidates for teaching certification receive training on the recognition of, and the requirement to report, instances of child or sexual abuse. The bill would go into effect in the 2020-2021 school year for candidates enrolled in teacher preparation programs. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, alternate route candidates would be required to complete the program within one year of being employed.

Tenure Arbitrator TrainingA-4406/S-2712 requires arbitrators who hear tenure charge matters pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act to receive training on conduct unbecoming a school employee, including issues related to allegations of sexual assault and child abuse.  The purpose of the training would be to assist arbitrators in determining matters in which conduct unbecoming is the basis of the tenure charges made against an employee.  The program would be developed in consultation with various stakeholders in the school law and education communities, including the NJSBA.

Collecting Data on Teacher MisconductA-4407/S-2713 requires the NJDOE to collect information on child abuse and sexual misconduct committed by teachers and to publish reports related to such behavior. Specifically, the Commissioner of Education would collect data from each school district on the number of employees who were disciplined or separated from employment while allegations of child abuse, sexual misconduct, or sexual or other harassment were pending or under investigation, or due to an adjudication or finding of such abuse, misconduct, or harassment. The bill requires the NJDOE to annually submit a summary report to the Legislature on the data collected, as well as issue a report on the implementation of the 2018 law that requires school districts to ascertain prospective employees’ past allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct.

Revoking Teaching CertificatesA-4408/S-2714 provides that if a board of education determines that a teaching staff member has failed to report an allegation of child abuse in accordance with state law or regulations, the board of education must submit a report to the State Board of Examiners that outlines its finding. The State Board of Examiners will review the certification of the teaching staff member to determine if the failure to report warrants the revocation or suspension of his or her certificate.