MONTVILLE, NJ – In the wake of former Montville Township elementary school teacher and convicted sexual predator Jason Fennes’ sentencing, a bill is making its way through the New Jersey legislative process because Montville Township Mayor Jim Sandham wanted predatory teachers to no longer be protected by the privacy system.
“Some parents brought their concerns about [Fennes] to me, and I sent them to the police, who later referred them to the County Prosecutor’s Office,” Sandham told TAPinto Montville. “We realized that the Butler School District had passed him off to our district, and after he resigned from our district, a few months later he was employed in a private school. That was not acceptable to me.”
Sandham brought his desire for a way to prevent predators from simply finding new districts to state Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26).
“Jim’s advocacy for Montville and its children were a genesis of this legislation,” Webber said.
Webber said he initially spoke with law enforcement officials to see if that approach should be taken, but he didn’t make much headway.
“The bill I have proposed is largely modeled on a Pennsylvania version used for educators, and New Jersey legislation used for healthcare providers,” Webber said.
“Jim has been been very persistent about following up. He has been eager to see progress because his town was personally affected by the issue,” Webber said.
The bill, A4442, was introduced in the legislature in December of 2016 and was referred to the state’s Assembly Education Committee. It “requires school districts, charter schools, and contracted service providers to review employment history of prospective employees to ascertain allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct and includes penalties for certain willful violations,” according to the legislature website. Further, it protects districts from lawsuits for providing the information to other districts. The bill was also introduced into the state Senate by Senators Anthony Bucco and Joseph Pennacchio.
At the end of December, USAToday published an article presenting the results of its year-long investigation into abusive teachers landing new jobs in the classroom. Webber said it underscored to him that “we took the right approach.”
Montville Township Superintendent of Schools René Rovtar said, “Last week we received a copy of the proposed bill. The Montville Township Board of Education is generally supportive of legislation that protects students. After reviewing and discussing the bill, the board had a number of concerns with it. There appear to be some ‘loopholes’ that would undermine the intent of the bill to protect students from sexual predators. We have communicated these concerns to Assemblyman Webber in the hope that he might be able to address them.”
Still, Sandham is hopeful for the bill’s prospects, and hopes the Montville Township Committee and Board of Education will adopt resolutions in support of the bill and forward them to county and state legislative leaders.
“It is the culmination of personal lobbying for more than two years,” Sandham said. “This is the single most important thing I have done in my 13 years of public service and probably my life to date.”