Background check bill clears Senate

Bill would expand criminal checks of school employees


The New Jersey Senate has unanimously passed a bill that will, if it is eventually signed into law, revise the current background check requirements for all school employees who come in contact with students.

Sponsored by Sens. Loretta Weinberg, Barbara Buono and Shirley K. Turner, bill S- 110 will revise the current criminal background check requirements for employees by requesting that all teachers and school district employees undergo a criminal background check.

In addition to the faculty and administration, people who are considered school employees also include bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitorial staff.

The bill revises criminal history record checks for public and nonpublic school employees and bus drivers, and expands the list of offenses that would disqualify an employee from working at a school.

Buono said revisions to background check procedures are something she had been thinking about for a while.

“There were loopholes that needed to be closed,” she said.

Since 1986, candidates for employment in New Jersey schools have been required to submit to criminal history background checks.

The bill states that “in order to assure the safety of school students and others in our schools, persons who come in contact with students or school property must possess the character and integrity necessary for their positions.”

The bill also states that it is imperative that all employees, including those hired prior to 1986, and candidates for employment undergo criminal history record checks that are updated regularly.

All employees hired prior to 1986 as well as those hired before 2003 (before fingerprints were able to be taken electronically) would have two years to be fingerprinted by the state Bureau of Investigation.

The original criminal history background check was established in 1986 and the law at the time included a “grandfather” provision that said employees of a district who were hired before that date did not have to have their records checked.

According to the senators, applicants were fingerprinted before 2003, but once the background checks were complete, the files were destroyed.

Currently, the federal government does not have an electronic fingerprint database, so federal criminal background checks would be required every two years.

Additions were made to the list of offenses that would disqualify applicants and employees from working in schools. The current law provided that all first- and seconddegree crimes and other specified crimes would permanently disqualify a person from working in schools.

The senators added the crimes of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, human trafficking, peering (peering into windows or other openings of dwelling places), violating the Anti-Terrorism Act, and employing a juvenile in the commission of a crime.

“It’s to protect our children from any form of danger,” Buono said. “That’s what the expansion clarifies.”

The bill also adds an additional regulation for school bus drivers. Information on all drivers or substitute drivers of vehicles operated by the Board of Education must be filed by the secretary of the board with the executive county superintendent of schools.

The information must include each driver’s name, Social Security number, certification of a valid school bus driver’s license, a criminal history record check, and evidence of a check for the driver’s record of any alcohol or drug-related motor vehicle violations.

The school bus driver will be permanently disqualified from his or her job if any offenses during employment result in conviction.

If any employee currently working in a New Jersey school facility is found with a criminal record that interferes with the provisions of the bill, he or she will be fired.

“Unless their crimes were expunged, which varies on the severity of the crime, they would be terminated,” Buono said.

The reasons for employee termination will be identified in a written notice. Any employee who fails to comply can be subject to a fine of up to $500 for each incidence of noncompliance.

The bill is now headed to the Assembly for consideration. Buono said she is hopeful it will pass and is encouraging that it be considered as soon as possible.