TRENTON – The Senate today gave unanimous approval to legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner, Joseph Doria and John Girgenti that would define any assault on a nonpublic school teacher or administrator as an aggravated assault.
“No teacher should ever have to worry about being assaulted by a student,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “But the penalty for harming a teacher should not be dependent on whether that individual teaches in a public or private school. Charging tuition shouldn’t result in less stringent punishments for students acting in such a deplorable way.”
Under the current law, a student who assaults any school board member, school administrator, teacher, school bus driver or other employee of a school board, while engaged in the performance of his duties is charged with aggravated assault. A recent Supreme Court decision held that the enhanced protection did not apply to private school teachers because the statute does not specifically include private school employees and the legislative history suggests that the Legislature sought to address only those actions that occur in public schools.
“As a long-time educator, I know that the differences between public and private school teachers is minimal, from the skills they use to the challenges they face,” explained Senator Doria, D-Hudson, who was the sponsor of the original legislation. “All teachers should enjoy the same protections when it comes to keeping themselves free from physical harm while performing their duties. That was our intent when the law was first passed and now we’re making that clear.”
“The Supreme Court decision brought to our attention a loophole in the law that didn’t make much sense,” explained Senator Girgenti, D-Bergen and Passaic. “We saw no reason why there should be anything but parity between public and nonpublic schools when it comes to issues of safety. This bill is taking the steps necessary to make sure all educators are equally protected.”
The bill, S-1633/1740, would respond to the court decision by adding specific language to include administrators and teachers of private schools within the upgrade provisions of the assault statute.
Aggravated assault is a crime of the third degree if the victim suffers bodily injury; otherwise it is a crime of the fourth degree. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment not to exceed 18 months, a fine not to exceed $10,000 or both. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment between three to five years, a fine not to exceed $15,000.00 or both. Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail.
The bill now goes to Governor’s desk for his signature.