Hopewell Valley school board tightens hiring policies

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Aiming to keep child abusers away from students, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education has approved a new policy and accompanying regulation to help prevent the school district from inadvertently hiring them.

The new regulations grew out of recently adopted state legislation, informally known as “Pass the Trash,” that seeks to prevent abusive teachers and employees from moving from school district to school district.

The policy and regulation, which was approved by the school board at its Feb. 11 meeting, requires applicants to fill out a disclosure release form that would include that name and contact information of current and former employers where the applicant had direct contact with children.

The requested information, which would be sought for the past 20 years, applies to public, private and charter schools, and contracted service providers who had direct contact with children.

It also applies to non-profit entities in which the applicant was a volunteer who had direct contact with children, such as coaches or Boy Scout or Girl Scout leaders, and which required a background check.

The state “Pass the Trash” legislation stemmed from the practice of some school districts or employers to avoid fully disclosing to a prospective employer any of the reasons for an employee’s dismissal.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said employees are sometimes “negotiated out” of their current employment, but that information is not shared with school districts that may want to hire them.

“People sometimes get asked to leave a district quietly and you can hire them without knowledge (of the reasons for dismissal),” Smith said. Under the new rules, it must be disclosed whether the employee left the school district under “adverse circumstances,” he said.

School board vice president Adam Sawicki agreed that some school districts do withhold that information from prospective employers. The new rules require a greater amount of due diligence by the prospective employer, he said.

The current employer must be “open and forthright” when contacted about a current employee, Sawicki said. Employers may not enter into agreements that allow for the suppression or destruction of information regarding a report of suspected child abuse or sexual misconduct by a current or former employee, not may it expunge that information – unless the allegations were not proven.

A written statement also must be submitted to the school district that indicates whether the applicant has been the subject of any child abuse or sexual misconduct investigation by any employer, state licensing agency, the police or the state Department of Children and Families.

The regulation adopted by the school board seeks to find out whether the applicant has ever been “disciplined, discharged, non-renewed, asked to resign from employment, resigned from or otherwise separated from any employment while allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct were pending or under investigation, or due to an adjudication or finding of child abuse or sexual misconduct.”

And if an applicant is hired, but information is later discovered regarding the employee’s history of child abuse or sexual misconduct, he or she may be fired, the regulation states.