Turner/Weinberg Measure To Require Schools To Report Suspicious Absences Passed By Senate

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner and Loretta Weinberg that would require school districts to notify the Division of Youth and Family Services of long-term unexcused absences received final legislative approval today as it passed the Senate unanimously.

“Frequent, unexplained absences from school are one of the biggest warning signs of child neglect and abuse,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “If our schools can be more proactive in looking for these long-term, unexplained absences, we can make sure that DYFS intervenes with those families before the neglect or abuse leads to permanent harm or death. We must learn from the tragedies of the past.”

The bill, S-1523, requires school attendance officers to investigate any unexcused absence by a student for five or more consecutive days and notify the district superintendent of the absence. The district superintendent would notify the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for its determination of whether DYFS is or has been involved with the child and whether action, as appropriate, is warranted.

“The unnecessary death of Faheem Williams taught us that we must all be on the lookout for child abuse and neglect,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Given that there are few places that children spend more time at than school, educators must be our first line of defense when it comes to reporting the warning signs of abuse and neglect.”

The bill also states that when a student withdraws from a school district and transfers to a new district, the child’s parent or guardian would be required to inform the child’s district of the name and location of the child’s new school district and expected date of enrollment. Five days following the expected date of enrollment, the superintendent of the district of last attendance would contact the school district to which the child is transferring to determine if the child has enrolled.

If the child has not enrolled, the attendance officer of the transfer district would be required to investigate the failure to enroll and notify the superintendent of the transfer district of the failure to enroll. The superintendent of the transfer district would then notify DYFS for its determination of whether DYFS is or has been involved with the child and whether action, as appropriate, is warranted.

The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

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