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 approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 79-0, receiving final legislative approval.
“School officials have a responsibility to maintain a safe and productive learning environment for their students,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “They need to know when students in their midst have committed violent crimes, in order to protect the rest of the student population. This bill would ensure that principals have the information they need to take whatever precautions are necessary to protect our kids on school grounds.”
“School violence isn’t simply a hypothetical situation any more, and as we read with more and more frequency about assaults on our students, we need to make sure school officials are prepared,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic. “The best tool to keep students safe is information, and principals need access to their students’ criminal records, in order to ensure a safe learning environment for the rest of the student body. We need to trust principals to use this information in order to protect students from potential harm.”
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.
“We’re not looking to punish students who’ve already paid the price for their crimes, but we do need to be careful, for the sake of the other students,” said Senator Sweeney. “By notifying principals about the criminal records of their students, we can hopefully avoid a repeat of whatever behavior earned that student a criminal record in the first place. This bill isn’t about demonizing students who’ve paid their debt, but about protecting everyone else.”
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.
“This bill isn’t about tattling on students who’ve committed relatively minor traffic violations,” said Senator Van Drew. “This bill would only apply to those students whose crimes could have jeopardized the safety or well-being of another. Principals need to know this sort of information before, God forbid, tragedy strikes at a school in New Jersey.”
The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law. It was approved unanimously by the Senate in May.