TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate Labor Chair Fred Madden that would prevent sexual abuse in schools cleared the Senate 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. School 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 16-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 13 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 taskforce 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 contact if they commit an act of sexual contact or guilty of aggravated criminal sexual assault if they commit an act of 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.
A fourth bill, S-2712, would require additional training for arbitrators on sexual assault and child abuse, as well as teacher misconduct. 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 clear standards for teacher misconduct.
The bills cleared the Senate yesterday by votes of 38-0, 38-0 and 37-0 respectively.