July 18, 2019 | 81° F

NJ legislation takes preventative steps to curb sexual misconduct, educate students on consent

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Pushing legislation that requires New Jersey schools to educate students on sexual assault and awareness, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-NJ-6th) spoke on benefits of using stricter vetting processes that notify employers of people with a history of sexual misconduct.

On Thursday, the General Assembly of the New Jersey State Legislature approved a legislative package that would prevent sexual predators from being hired at schools by enforcing a thorough vetting process.

In a special hearing to discuss misconduct in schools and how it should be reported, four bills were approved unanimously. The bills now await action from the New Jersey Senate, according to a news release from the Assembly Democrats

Nondisclosure agreements, deals in which two or more parties agree not to disclose information regarding their business activities, have acted as a loophole in the past. “Passing the trash” — a cycle where educators accused of sexual misconduct can be dismissed from one job and move seamlessly to another — has been going on for years, according to NJ Advance Media.

"There have been reported cases of teachers who were accused of sexual misconduct in one school, but were able to find work in other schools where they were able to victimize even more children," said Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt (D-NJ-6th), according to the press release. 

She said that a strict vetting process of prospective employees could help identify and disqualify people with a history of problematic behavior with children.

The first bill, A-3381, requires school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools and contracted service providers to review employment history of prospective employees to discover allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct involving children, according to the release.

It would do this by prohibiting consideration of a job application unless a thorough review is conducted. 

As part of the review, the applicant will be required to list employers from the last 20 years that were schools or involved working with children, according to a statement from the Assembly Education Committee. They will also be required to provide their own written statement regarding their standing as well as written authorization, consenting to the disclosure of requested information.

A school must ask previous employers if the applicant was a subject in any child abuse or sexual misconduct investigation, was disciplined, discharged, nonrenewed, asked to resign or was separated from employment as a result of investigation or had a professional license suspended or removed, according to the statement.

"Individuals who left one school because of questionable interactions with children should not be able to just go get a job with another school," said Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-NJ-38th). "This can help prevent individuals who have no business working with children from falling through the cracks."

The second bill, A-769, adds sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in preschool through 12th grade, according to the news release. The third, A-2189, requires schools to provide education about the social, emotional and legal consequences of distributing sexually explicit images online.

"This is a huge problem in the age of social media. Many young people don't fully understand the ramifications of sharing sexually explicit images, and the serious legal trouble it can get them in," Lampitt said according to the release. "Teaching young people the consequences can help quell this problematic trend." 

The final bill, A-2190, requires schools to instruct students in grades six through 12 on the law and meaning of consent for physical contact and sexual activity, according to the release.

According to the University Human Resources website, the department currently offers a program that allows other departments to obtain certain background information about job applicants.

The background checks currently include verification of an applicant’s Social Security Number, a criminal records check, a court records check and a credit record check pending on the position's relevance. The checks are available for finalists of “Class 1 staff positions.”

“For Rutgers positions, participation in the program is voluntary, and the decision as to whether or not to conduct a background investigation on a finalist is left to the discretion of each individual department,” according to the site.

In January, Rutgers placed adjunct professor Sombudha Adhikari on administrative leave after reports of a previous criminal sexual misconduct charge against him were brought to the University’s attention, according to The Daily Targum.

The Targum reported that Adhikari was arrested in 2009 “for inappropriately grabbing the breasts and inner thighs of one of his students at Fairleigh Dickinson University.” He pled guilty in court, was released on $5,000 bail and terminated from his position at Fairleigh Dickinson at the time.

Despite being terminated from his teaching position at another school, Adhikari’s employment status at Rutgers remained active, according to the Targum. That was until last month, when the charges were brought to the University’s attention and Adhikari was placed on administrative leave, awaiting a “comprehensive review” of the circumstances.

"We need to empower our children so they understand what is appropriate and what is not so they can protect themselves," Lampitt said in the release. "We also need to have a more stringent employment history review process to prevent individuals who have been accused of sexual wrongdoing in one school from going to another school and hurting other children." 

Ryan Stiesi

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