Ruiz, Madden Bill Package to Address Sexual Abuse in Schools Clears Committee

TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate Labor Chair Fred H. Madden, Jr. that would prevent sexual abuse in schools cleared the Senate Education Committee yesterday.

“During our joint committee hearing advocates, practitioners, and experts testified on a variety of issues. It was clear that New Jersey needed to do better,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Whether it is tightening a loophole, or offering professional development for our teachers, we are committed to working to ensure safe environments for our children. Schools should be a place conducive for all students to learn and grow, without fear of abuse or harassment.”

“We understand that this legislation will not completely solve the problem of child abuse in schools, but our hope is that it will begin to ameliorate it,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Creating the task force and closely monitoring the frequency of incidences will allow us to continue to improve our policies, and in turn continue to improve the safety of students.”

One bill, S-2707, would establish a 15-member task force within the Department of Education to make recommendations for reducing sexual abuse of children in the state. The task force would consist of three representatives from related departments in the state, and 12 members from the public with a background relevant to the issue. The appointed members of the public would represent the geographic diversity of the state. The task-force would review data, reports, and testimony, and ultimately issue reports to the governor and Legislature stating their findings and recommendations.

Under a related bill, S-2709, a person who is 21 or older, is employed or volunteering at the victim’s school, and had contact with the victim in the course of performing their duties would be guilty of criminal sexual assault if they commit an act of sexual contact or penetration against a pupil. It would amend the current law, so it would qualify as a criminal act so long as the victim had not yet received a high school diploma.

Another bill, S-2711, would require all teaching certificate candidates to receive training on the recognition of, and requirement to report, child abuse and sexual abuse. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, anyone seeking certification through the alternate route would be required to complete the program within one year of being employed. Beginning with the 2020-2021 school year this would be required of all newly certified teachers coming out of college programs. Current teachers would be required to complete the training as part of their professional development.

A fourth bill, S-2712, would require additional training for arbitrators on sexual assault and child abuse. The training would assist arbitrators in determining when this type of conduct is grounds for tenure charges against the employee. This would ensure all arbitrators have baseline knowledge of child sexual abuse, and understand how it differs from standard teacher misconduct.

A related bill, S-2713, would require the Department of Education to collect data from each school district on teacher misconduct, including how many teachers were disciplined due to charges of sexual abuse, or harassment. Annually, after collecting the data a report would be issued to the Legislature.

A sixth bill, S-2714, would require school districts to notify the state board of examiners if it is determined that a teaching staff member has failed to report an allegation of child abuse in the proper manner.

The final bill, S-2715, would require the attorney general, along with the commissioner of education, to review protocols related to the retention of video surveillance from schools security systems. They would address how long video footage is retained, how to limit access to footage and ensure that all protocols comply with the federal “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act”.

All of the bills passed unanimously by a vote of 5-0, and next head to the full Senate for further consideration.