Earlier this month we reported how 350 school board members across New Jersey were told to resign their positions immediately after failing to complete a criminal background check now mandated by state law.
In an update on this story, the New Jersey Department of Education is still holding off releasing information related to all of the 4,702 board member and trustee background checks that were performed at that time. Under state law, board members have 30 days to submit a criminal background check or face removal from their elected position. The state extended the criminal background check deadline this year to January27th in light of confusion with the new law.
According to the law, board members with prior convictions including, but not limited to Reckless Endangerment, Criminal Restraint, Criminal Mischief, Burglary, Usury, Threats, Resisting Arrest, Escape or Bias Intimidation would be deemed ineligible to serve as a school board member in the state of New Jersey.
“There are no exceptions for board members/trustees to continue to serve without having submitted to the criminal history record check,” the state said in a statement.
For now, the state has granted a temporary reprieve for those board members who either refused or did not submit to a criminal background check. So far, at least 12 board members in New Jersey have been disqualified for previous criminal convictions.
The legislators and governor in the state of New Jersey acted quickly on the new school board criminal background check legislation, which is the cause of the current confusion and delays, but the NJ Department of Education said today that the final list of board members deemed ineligible should be released in the coming weeks.
The department would not comment on any board members or school districts at this time.
In quite a shocking story from New Jersey, it seems that background screening legislation is really starting to make an impact. Some 350 school board members across New Jersey must resign their positions immediately after failing to complete a criminal background check now mandated by state law.
The requirement, imposed through legislation enacted last year, is designed to hold school board members to the same standards that prevent criminals from becoming public school teachers, including drug possession or criminal mischief offenses. It is currently the only such law in the country but – with an ever-increasing focus on protecting children – there is little doubt that similar legislation will pop up in other states in 2012.
Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union) sponsored the legislation that requires school board members to undergo a criminal background check.
Failure to have completed the background check by Dec. 31 is an offense and officials who refuse to step down could be charged with a fourth-degree crime under the new law. ”If you don’t complete the background check, and you try to stick around, you risk going to jail. It’s as simple as that,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union), the legislation’s sponsor.
Of the state’s 4,702 non-charter school board members, 189 failed to submit their background checks by the end-of-year deadline. In addition, nine members from districts including Plainfield and Long Hill who did submit the check have been disqualified for past crimes.
Noncompliance among board of trustee members at charter schools is much higher. One quarter of all charter school board officials, or 165 of 597 trustees, did not submit their criminal history reviews and are ineligible to continue serving their school communities. In addition, three trustees have been disqualified for past crimes.
What do you think of this legislation? Some believe it is overly-punitive, would you agree?
You can read more about this story at NJ.com.
In Brockton, MA, background checks have not been performed on teachers and other school employees in more than three years, putting the department in violation of state law. The revelation comes less than a week after School Committee members said they were assured that the department was in compliance with state laws regarding employee background checks.
Although we are singling out Brockton here, failing to achieve background check targets set by the authorities is a nationwide problem which seems no nearer to being solved. So what is the cause of the problem, and what is the solution?
Primarily, it is time and money. While, on the whole, new teachers are checked, re-checking current teachers seems to a lower priority – and this obviously brings statistics down. With limited time, and an ever-increasing number of teachers to be checked, the “to-do” list builds quicker than it can be depleted. While new hires are rightly being prioritized, this simply leaves no time for the rest.
So why not hire more individuals to perform background checks? Well, it’s all about money. Ideally yes, more people would be hired and they could then swiftly work through performing all the necessary checks, but with state budgets incredibly tight at this time, it is claimed that the money is simply not available.
The claim of whether the money is available, however, depends on which side of the fence you sit. In a literal sense, the money is there – background checks for teachers just isn’t considered by the authorities as deserving as other aspects of society to receive any more of the budget. And this is the root of the problem. Until we start placing our children first, and making their safety a priority, these resources will never be available.