Turner/Weinberg Measure Would Require Schools To Report Suspicious Absences

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 was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.

“One of the biggest signs of child neglect and abuse is frequent absence from school,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Our schools need to be more proactive in looking for these long-term, unexplained absences so that DYFS can intervene with families before the neglect or abuse leads to permanent harm or death. We can’t undo the tragedies of the past, but we can make sure that they don’t happen again.”

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.

“Besides home, there few places that children spend more time than school, making it one of the primary fronts in the fight against child abuse and neglect,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “We can’t afford to have our schools ignore these early warning signs when it only takes a few phone calls to determine if further investigation by DYFS is needed. If these safeguards had been in place in 2002, perhaps Faheem Williams would still be alive today.”

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 passed the committee by a vote of 8-0 and now goes to the full Senate for approval.

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