TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee today gave unanimous approval to legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner and John Girgenti that would define any assault on a nonpublic school teacher or administrator as an aggravated assault.
“Whether an individual teaches in a public or private school, they should enjoy the same protections against bodily harm while performing their duties,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Committee. “Just because a parent pays tuition for their student to attend a school, it doesn’t give that student any more of a right to assault the faculty of that school.”
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.
“The Supreme Court decision brought to light a loophole in the law that didn’t make much sense,” explained Senator Girgenti, D-Bergen and Passaic. “There really should be parity between public and nonpublic schools when it comes to issues of safety, and this bill is taking the steps necessary to make sure all educators are equally protected.”
The bill, S-1633/1740, would amend the statute that provides enhanced protections to public school employees to include private school employees. Specifically, this bill would classify an assault on a nonpublic school teacher as an aggravated assault. This bill would overturn 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. Third degree crimes are punishable by imprisonment of three-to-five years. Fourth degree crimes are punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months. Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.