11 bills against child sex abuse advance after undercover NJEA vids
TRENTON — First came the Project Veritas hidden-camera videos in which local teachers’ union leaders seemed to brush aside allegations of sexual abuse of children. Then came a legislative hearing. And now comes action – 11 bills advanced Thursday by a Senate committee.
The package endorsed by the Senate Education Committee, which would still need multiple approvals before becoming law, includes four bills that were already pending and seven written after the May 31 hearing.
Shelley Skinner, executive director of the Better Education Institute, thanked lawmakers for appreciating the urgency, noting there have been two more cases of teachers accused of sexual abuse just in the last two weeks since the Senate hearing.
“We really need to create a culture and climate where children and adults alike feel like it’s safe to report abuse,” Skinner said.
Here’s the list of bills and their summaries:
- S408: Directs school districts to establish policies and require training for employees on issues regarding child sexual abuse.
- S641: Requires that sexual abuse against a child be reported to law enforcement officials.
- S1129: Requires certain employees and candidates for public school employment or service and youth camp employees to undergo child abuse record information check.
- S2489: Requires board of education to post information about child abuse hotline in each school.
- S2707: Establishes task force within DOE on prevention of sexual abuse of children.
- S2709: Provides that certain persons who commit act of sexual penetration or sexual contact with students who are 16 or older are guilty of sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual contact.
- S2711: Mandates child abuse and sexual abuse training for all candidates for teaching certification.
- S2712: Mandates sexual assault and child abuse training for DOE arbitrators.
- S2713: Requires DOE to collect information on certain teacher misconduct and report to Legislature.
- S2714: Requires districts to notify Board of Examiners when teaching staff member fails to report child abuse for determination of revocation or suspension of certificate.
- S2715: Requires attorney general to develop protocol for retaining footage from school surveillance system.
Olga Starr, training and outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Children’s Alliance, said that teachers, given the amount of time they spend with children, already identify and report more child abuse cases than any other profession.
“Yet studies show that two-thirds of teachers do not receive substantive training in preventing, recognizing or responding to child abuse,” Starr said.
Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said even though the state has robust laws designed to protect against child sexual abuse, it can do more.
“The reality is that all of us, regardless of our profession, are products of a society that permits and promotes rape culture,” Teffenhart said. “We need increased training about ways to prevent, identify, respond to and report child sexual abuse.”
State Sen. Mike Doherty, R-Warren, said he’s never met anyone who promotes rape culture and noted all the bills passed unanimously with “100 percent opposition” to sexual abuse.
“I just have to say I totally disagree with that statement. I think it’s uncalled for,” Doherty said. “I think you need to be a little bit more selective in pointing out things like that. It’s just unfortunate you had to bring that ugliness into this.”
Some of the bills are likely to be changed before they’re approved.
For instance, new sexual assault and child abuse training for arbitrators should cover other types of bad conduct by teachers, too, said Jonathan Pushman, a legislative advocate for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
“There’s an opportunity here to perhaps expand upon that, maybe broaden it so that they get some guidance and training on all matters regarding conduct unbecoming of employees,” said Pushman.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who sponsored the existing teacher tenure law and chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she’s open to the suggestion and asked Pushman to recommend language that can be added to the bill.
Teachers’ union leaders didn’t testify at the Thursday hearing.