BEACH, GREENSTEIN, VAINIERI HUTTLE UNVEIL BILL TO AUGMENT SCHOOL BUS SAFETY LAWS

Measure Would Close Criminal Background Check, Bus Monitoring Loopholes

Senators Jim Beach and Linda Greenstein and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle have introduced legislation that would augment criminal background checks for school bus personnel to include all adults given responsibility for the safety of school children, closing a loophole that had left bus aides free from scrutiny.

The measure also would enhance penalties against any employee found tampering with a school bus’ on-board monitoring device.

Beach said the changes were spurred in part by last year’s arrest of a Waterford School District bus aide on allegations that he had repeatedly molested a young girl. While the accused did not have a criminal record, Beach said the incident highlighted the loophole that left bus aides out from the background check requirements.

“We take care to ensure that the person driving a school bus does not have a criminal past, but we have nothing in place to ensure that other adults overseeing students are similarly cleared,” said Beach (D-Camden). “A bus driver must remain in their seat while the vehicle is moving, while a bus aide has free reign to roam the bus at all times. To not require them to undergo the same scrutiny as the driver does not make sense.”

“Parents have an expectation that the same concern for their child’s safety shown in the classroom will extend to the bus they ride every day,” said Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer), a longtime proponent for tougher school bus safety laws. “Increased school bus safety doesn’t just mean ensuring that vehicles are safe and drivers properly trained. It also means ensuring that no one with a criminal past is allowed to be in a place of authority on a school bus.”

The “School Bus Safety and Child Protection Act,” (S-2821) would clarify current law by requiring bus drivers and aides in both public and charter school districts – as well as for any school which receives public funding for busing – to undergo criminal background checks prior to employment; private and parochial schools would be fully authorized to conduct similar checks on their bus personnel. Any employee accused of committing a disqualifying offense would be suspended until the case is resolved – with a conviction or other admission of guilt resulting in immediate termination.

“As we’ve seen all too recently, there are disturbed individuals in this world,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who will sponsor the bill in the Assembly. “We must pull out all the stops to ensure that rigorous standards are in place for anyone entrusted with the safety of our children. This is about protecting our kids, giving parents peace of mind, and reducing the liability on school districts. At the end of the day, no parent should have to worry about whether or not their children were subjected to such heinous behavior.”

The bill also would tighten the rules on school bus monitoring. School districts that have cameras to monitor the on-board activities on its buses would be required to randomly view the recordings at some point during the school year. Tampering with an on-board monitoring device would be a fourth degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months jail-time and fines of up to $10,000, or both.

“These get-tough measures are necessary to ensuring that every child is safe to, from and at school,” said Beach. “There shouldn’t be any loopholes when it comes to a child’s safety.”

The Beach/Greenstein bill was formally introduced Monday, when the Senate convened. Vainieri Huttle said she would introduce the Assembly measure when that chamber next meets later this spring.