Assemblyman Jay Webber testified before the state Senate Education Committee supporting his proposal to prevent child predators in schools from easily changing jobs to another school.
“We have a problem in New Jersey and a problem nationwide,” Webber (R-Morris) told the committee. “The system that is set up in this state encourages stopping disciplinary hearings of child molesters before they can be found guilty and letting them move on to the next school, which will be totally unaware of the molester’s activities.”
Webber told the committee the story of Jason Fennes, the former Montville High School teacher whose sexual assault of five female students spurred his suspension and resignation.
Fennes was then hired by a private school that confirmed his employment, but Montville was bound by a separation agreement preventing them from sharing his past abuse. Subsequently, he sexually assaulted a first-grade girl less than a year after his hire for which he is now serving a 14-year state prison sentence.
The bill (S414) would require school districts to share information about sexual misconduct and child abuse investigations unless the claims were proven to be false or unsubstantiated, and grant school districts legal immunity. It would also ban the separation agreements that force districts to destroy or withhold information about those probes.
“It forces applicants to school districts or private schools to disclose if they have been the subject of any investigation of sexual misconduct with a child and for former employers to disclose if there were any charges,” explained Webber. “And, it requires the hiring district to investigate any affirmative response that an applicant might give.”
Webber explained that the bill was modeled largely on a Pennsylvania statute, which was adopted unanimously by the Pennsylvania state legislature three years ago. He said at least five other states – Connecticut, Nevada, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington state – passed similar laws.
“I think that kind of sunshine is desperately needed and would have prevented the abuse of several children in our district and others,” concluded Webber.
The committee unanimously advanced the legislation.
Senator Joe Pennacchio sponsors the Senate bill (S414).