Bills sponsored by Downey, Lampitt, Lagana, Caputo, Giblin, Vainieri Huttle & Danielsen
(TRENTON) – The General Assembly on Thursday approved a four-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Pamela Lampitt, Joe Lagana, Ralph Caputo, Thomas Giblin, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joseph Danielsen to teach students about consent and sexual assault, and thoroughly vet prospective school employees for allegations of sexual misconduct involving children to prevent sexual predators from working in schools.
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. According to the U.S. Department of Justice only 10 percent of perpetrators were strangers to the child.
“We need to empower our children so they understand what is appropriate and what is not so they can protect themselves,” said Lampitt. “We also need to have a more stringent employment history review process to prevent individuals who have been accused of sexual wrongdoing in one school from going to another school and hurting other children.”
The first bill (A-3381), sponsored by Downey, Lampitt and Lagana, requires school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools, and contracted service providers to review employment history of prospective employees to discover allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children. The bill would prohibit the consideration of a job application unless there is a review of the employment history of the applicant that includes contacting former and current employers, and requesting information regarding child abuse and sexual misconduct allegations involving children.
There have been numerous cases where teachers accused of sexual misconduct involving children in one school were able to find work in other schools where they victimized other children. The past misconduct may not have been shared with the hiring school district, at times because of a non-disclosure agreement, leaving the hiring district without this important information.
“The way things are set up now, predators seem to have free reign to move from school to school and hurt children without any consequence,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Having a review that is meant to reveal these types of accusations can help protect students from these predators.”
“There have been reported cases of teachers who were accused of sexual misconduct in one school, but were able to find work in other schools where they were able to victimize even more children,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “A thorough review of all prospective employees can help identify problematic behavior that would disqualify these individuals and keep them away from our children.”
“Individuals who left one school because of questionable interactions with children should not be able to just go get a job with another school,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This can help prevent individuals who have no business working with children from falling through the cracks.”
The school district, charter school, nonpublic school, or contracted service provider must ask those employers for a statement as to whether the applicant:
- was the subject of an investigation of any child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children, by any employer, State licensing agency, law enforcement agency, or the Department of Children and Families, if the investigation resulted in a finding that the allegations were substantiated;
- was disciplined, discharged, not renewed, asked to resign from employment, or resigned from or otherwise separated from any employment due to an adjudication or finding that child abuse or sexual misconduct with a child was substantiated; or
- has ever had a license, professional license, or certificate suspended, surrendered, or revoked while allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children were pending or under investigation, or due to an adjudication or finding of child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children.
The applicant must also provide his own written statement disclosing any of the same matters and provide a written authorization that consents to and authorizes disclosure of the information requested by the prospective employer and releases the applicant’s former and current employers from any liability arising from the disclosure.
No later than 20 days after receiving a request for information, an employer that has or has had an employment relationship within the last 20 years with the applicant must disclose the information requested on a standardized form developed by the Department of Education.
The information received by a prospective employer under the provisions of this bill is deemed not to be a public record. In addition, the bill provides that the entity providing information or records to the prospective employer will be immune from criminal and civil liability for the disclosure of the information, unless the information or records provided were knowingly false.
On or after the date of enactment of this bill, a school district, charter school, nonpublic school, or contracted service provider may not enter into an agreement for resignation or termination, a severance agreement, or any other contract or agreement or take any action that:
- has the effect of suppressing or destroying information relating to an investigation related to a report of suspected child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children by a current or former employee;
- affects the ability of the school district, charter school, nonpublic school, or contracted service provider to report suspected child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children to the appropriate authorities; or
- requires the school district, charter school, nonpublic school, or contracted service provider to expunge information about allegations or findings of suspected child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children from any documents maintained by the school district, charter school, nonpublic school, or contracted service provider, unless after investigation the allegations were not found to be substantiated.
The second bill (A-769), sponsored by Caputo, Giblin and Vainieri Huttle, would require each school district to incorporate age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in grades preschool through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.
Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, and other entities with relevant expertise, would have to develop age-appropriate sample learning activities and resources. The commissioner would have to provide the material to school districts to implement this requirement.
This bill is modeled on legislation adopted in a number of other states. The legislation is often referred to as “Erin’s Law” in honor of Erin Merryn, who was a child victim of sexual abuse and has been advocating for the passage of the legislation to better educate and empower children.
“It has become painfully clear how rampant this is, and how important it is to educate young people about sexual abuse so they can protect themselves,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “By having these conversations, we are reaffirming that abuse is not okay and no one should have to suffer in silence.”
“Predators often use the innocence and vulnerability of young people against them,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “Educating children from an early age about what entails sexual abuse can help empower children to speak up and prevent other children from being victimized.”
“The trauma caused by sexual abuse is often deep and long-lasting. By educating school-age children about what constitutes sexual abuse and how they can protect themselves, we can save these children from the painful aftermath,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
The third bill (A-2189) would require school districts to include instruction for middle school students on the social, emotional, and legal consequences of distributing sexually explicit images through electronic means as part of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Health and Physical Education. The bill is sponsored by Lampitt, Downey and Danielsen.
“This is a huge problem in the age of social media. Many young people don’t fully understand the ramifications of sharing sexually explicit images, and the serious legal trouble it can get them in,” said Lampitt. “Teaching young people the consequences can help quell this problematic trend.”
“Many teens don’t know that, by law, a sexual image of any person under 18 is child pornography,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “We need to educate teens on the legal consequences so they can avoid the trouble and heartbreak that a single text in the wrong hands can bring.”
“Young people are impulsive. They might not consider the consequences of sharing an explicit image until it is too late,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “Young people need to understand the legal ramifications and the lasting mental and emotional trauma that can be caused by sexting.”
The last bill (A-2190), sponsored by Lampitt and Downey, would require school districts to incorporate age-appropriate instruction in grades six through 12 on the law and meaning of consent for physical contact and sexual activity as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.
The instruction would be designed to increase discussion and awareness that consent is required before physical contact or sexual activity, as well as the social, emotional, and relational impact surrounding sexuality, the right to say no to unwanted physical contact or sexual activity, and the virtues of respecting the right of others to say no.
“Young people need to understand that they have the absolute right to say no to unwanted touching or advances that make them uncomfortable,” said Lampitt. “Teaching this in school can help them set healthy boundaries and help prevent inappropriate encounters.”
“Many sexual abuse victims will remain silent because they are unsure if their experiences constituted abuse. Predators count on this,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “We need to teach children about consent from an early age so they can confidently identify bad behavior and report it.”
The bills were approved unanimously and now await further consideration by the Senate.