Buono/Turner Bill To Keep Those With Criminal Histories From Working In Schools Passes Senate Budget Panel

TRENTON – The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved legislation today sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Shirley Turner 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.

“Our schools must be the epitome of security so that parents can send their children each morning knowing they’ll be safe,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “There is no place for people with known criminal records in our schools, and it is inexcusable that some districts are failing to take the steps required to make sure that all employees have clean records. No longer can districts 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 check on local school districts to make sure they have dismissed an employee disqualified by the Department of Education,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “After the Department has informed the district that an individual failed their criminal background check, there’s no follow-up to confirm that that individual has been removed. This partnership with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) will provide that critical check that will give much needed teeth to the law.”

The Senators’ bill, S-473, would implement the State Auditor’s recommendation to require DOE and 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.

According to Senator Turner, 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 14-0 and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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