TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney and Senator Jeff Van Drew which would require law enforcement or prosecuting agencies to provide written notice to high school principals of the identity of any student who is 18 years old or older and has been charged with certain serious criminal offenses was unanimously approved by the Senate today.
“School officials have a sacred and moral responsibility to ensure a safe and productive learning environment for their students,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “However, many times, principals and other school administrators do not always have all the information they need to protect students from danger. This bill expands the current principal notification requirements for students older than 18 who have committed very serious criminal offenses, in order to give school officials the information they need to respond to and address potential dangers on school grounds.”
“Unfortunately, school assaults and classroom violence are becoming more and more common across the country, and New Jersey must take steps to keep students safe,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic. “While we don’t want to hold students’ crimes against them into perpetuity, we need to make school officials aware of students with criminal histories. This bill is a good balance between the ideals of rehabilitation and the need for school officials to receive advanced notice so they can safeguard their schools.”
The bill, S-1809, would require law enforcement agencies or prosecutors within New Jersey to notify high school principals when a student who is 18 or older is charged with a criminal offense on school property or on a school bus, at a school-sponsored function, or was against an employee or official of the school. The bill would also require notification of the principal if the student was taken into custody as a result of information or evidence provided by school officials. Finally, the bill would require that, when a student age 18 or older transfers to a new school, the school district of last attendance would provide a criminal record to the new school district.
“The goal of this legislation isn’t to demonize kids who’ve made mistakes, but to protect students and create a safer learning environment,” said Senator Sweeney. “Principals wouldn’t be judge and jury when it comes to the rehabilitation of students with criminal records, but they are required to ensure a safe educational setting. Through this bill, they would be given more information in order to better monitor and address safety concerns in their schools.”
The sponsors noted that the bill would apply to serious criminal offenses, which would pose a public safety risk to the remaining student body. The bill specifically lists crimes that result in the death or serious bodily injury of another, or the attempt or conspiracy to cause death or serious bodily injury; unlawful use or possession of a firearm or other weapon; the unlawful manufacture, distribution or intent to distribute a controlled substance; hate or bias crimes; or any crime of the first, second or third degree under State criminal code. The lawmakers added that such reporting is already done for students under age 18, and this bill would extend reporting for any student 18 or older.
“It’s simply not within the public interest for school administrators to receive a list of every minor traffic citation or other offense committed by students who attend their schools,” said Senator Van Drew. “This bill specifically applies to crimes which have – or potentially could have – resulted in harm or bodily injury to another, in order to give school officials the advanced warning they need to protect law-abiding students. We don’t want to continue to punish students for past transgressions, but our school officials need to know about potential risks to student safety on their school grounds.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.