TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee approved legislation today sponsored by Senator Barbara Buono that would set up a system to ensure that school employees that have been disqualified from working in schools have had their employment terminated by the school district.
“As a parent, I find it troubling that a school district could continue to employ someone with a known criminal background,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “I think every parent wants to know that when they send their children off to school, that they will learn in a safe environment with responsible adults. No district should be allowed to ignore the State’s criminal background requirements.”
Senator Buono said she sponsored this bill after reading a report by the State Auditor on the Department of Education’s (DOE) background check system. The report found that while the Department was adequately performing the background checks and notifying local districts of any employee disqualification, there was no system in place to guarantee that those individuals were no longer working in the district after notification. The report identified a handful of cases where disqualified employees continued to work in districts even after notification had been given.
“Right now, there’s no way to guarantee that a local school district has fired an employee disqualified by the Department of Education,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Even after the Department has informed the district that an individual failed their criminal background check, there’s no easy way for the Department to confirm that that individual has been removed. The State Auditor’s recommended partnership with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development will provide that check.”
The Senator’s bill, S473, would implement the State Auditor’s recommendation to require DOE and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) to enter into an agreement to compare DOE’s list of individuals who have committed disqualifying offenses to the DOLWD’s wage reporting data files every three months. If a disqualified individual is found to be employed by a school district, the Commissioner of Education would have to notify that district and the individual’s employment would be terminated.
The bill would also require school districts to notify DOE when they have terminated an individual’s employment after receiving notice of that individual’s disqualification.
The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 4-0 and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.