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Lawrence school board seeks clarification on new employees vetting law

Aiming to prevent one school district from passing along a predatory teacher to another school district, state lawmakers have passed a law requiring schools to check for allegations of sexual abuse or sexual offenses against children.

Dubbed the “Pass the Trash Child Protection Measure,” the new law requires public schools, charter schools, private schools and contracted service providers to check into an applicant’s employment history for the past 20 years.

The applicant must provide contact information for all former employers in which the applicant had direct access to children for the past 20 years.

While the Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education supports the law, board members are concerned about the details and have written to state lawmakers to express their concerns.

“The spirit of the law is well intended, but it’s how do you do it. The details need to be worked out,” board member Jon Dauber said.

Board member Jo Ann Groeger agreed, pointing out the dilemma is that 20 years is “a long time ago.” At issue is how the employer goes about getting all of the information for the past 20 years, she said.

The intent is “noble,” Acting Superintendent of Schools Andrew Zuckerman said, but there is a lack of guidance in the law. If a facility at which an individual previously worked has closed, how does a prospective employer obtain the information, he asked.

“If we can’t get the information, then we can’t hire the person,” Zuckerman said.

Board president Kevin Van Hise, who is an attorney, said his law firm counsels clients to verify employment. But what if an applicant worked at a day camp 19 years ago and the camp is now non-existent, he asked.

“I’m not sure how many employers in the private sector know about this. It becomes problematic for a candidate. All of us are 100 percent on board with the law, but it’s what do we do if we can’t get the information,” Van Hise said.

That is why the board has written a letter to New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, state Sen. Shirley K. Turner (D-Hunterdon, Mercer), and Michael Vrancik, the director of governmental relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The board’s June 13 letter seeks to find out how a school district should handle the situation when a former employer cannot be contacted, and how the state will provide oversight to ensure all school districts comply with the law.

The letter also asks about the forms or documents used by school districts, suggesting the forms should be universal in design to ensure consistency in reporting. The letter also asks about the consequences if the law is not enforced.

“As board members, our responsibilities include making sure our district is well run and tax dollars are appropriately allocated,” board members wrote. “Some of the perhaps unintended consequences of the new legislation hinders a timely and efficient hiring process, will drain limited finances and may deny our getting our choice candidates.”

The letter was signed by the nine members of the board.

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