Education

"Safer Schools Bill" Passes First Hurdle in State Senate

71b62c96c349ca01881a_together.jpg
State Senator Joseph Pennacchio (L) and Assemblyman Jay Webber (R) Credits: Courtesy of Sen. Pennacchio and Asm. Webber
e64b5af91a1c95519c5c_Webber_Safer_Schools_Committee.jpg
State Senator Joseph Pennacchio (L) and Assemblyman Jay Webber (R) in Trenton Credits: Courtesy of Assemblyman Jay Webber
71b62c96c349ca01881a_together.jpg

MONTVILLE, NJ – Following no movement on his bill in the year 2017, Assemblyman Jay Webber’s anti-teacher abuse bill, created at the urging of former Montville mayor Jim Sandham, has seen its first hurdle surmounted. The bill, created in part due to William Mason Elementary School first grade teacher Jason Fennes and other predatory teachers, requires school districts to review the employment history of prospective employees to discover allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct. It has recently passed in the Senate Education Committee, after being co-sponsored in that committee by Senator Joseph Pennacchio (R-26) and Anthony R. Bucco (R-25).

Fennes was a teacher at William Mason School and has been convicted of sexually molesting five female students and sentenced to 14 years in prison, according to Webber at the committee hearing. Fennes was then hired by a private school that confirmed his employment, but Montville was bound by a separation agreement preventing them from informing the private school of his past infractions, Webber said.

The bill (S2917 or A4442 dated Jan. 2017) 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, according to a release from Webber (R-26).

Sign Up for E-News

“Mr. Fennes was a track coach at Butler High School,” Webber testified before the state Senate Education Committee on Jan. 25 in Trenton. “Mr. Fennes engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his students. Before it could be discovered, he resigned and applied for employment in Montville.

“Montville hired him, he obtained tenure and began teaching first graders. On several occasions the school district was informed that Mr. Fennes was engaging in inappropriate behavior with his students, including touching them, kissing them, having them sit on his lap and having them over to his house. His misdeeds were reported to DYFS at the time but no conclusion of abuse was made. Montville conducted its own investigation and found even more disturbing incidents of Mr. Fennes’ behavior and began the process of terminating Mr. Fennes’ employment. 

“Before that process could finish, the Board of Education and Mr. Fennes reached an agreement whereby Mr. Fennes would resign, and Montville would not share any details of his resignation with a future employer. In essence, he was given a neutral reference.

“When Mr. Fennes applied to Cedar Hill Preparatory School, that school only checked the dates of employment with Montville in 2010. In the fall of 2010 he had allegations made against him by parents at Cedar Hill Prep of inappropriate conduct with his first grade students, and in February 2012 he was arrested. He pleaded guilty to molesting at least six children in the three districts in which he worked.

“We have a problem in New Jersey – we have a problem nationwide. The system we have set up for employing teachers in this state encourages the practice of child molesters stopping the process of their disciplinary hearings before they can be found guilty – before charges against them can be substantiated. In the process of resigning, getting the school district to provide them a neutral reference and moving on to the next school district which may be totally unaware of that molester’s activities with the previous employer.

“Several other states have enacted laws like the one you have before you today, which forces employers to share the information with future employers,” Webber said.

Webber said the bill is modeled after the Pennsylvania statute which was adopted unanimously.

Betsy Ginsburg of the Garden State Coalition of Schools testified at the hearing, “We feel this bill gives districts and administrators additional tools to ensure the safety and security of our students from predators.”

Jonathan Pushman of the New Jersey School Boards Association said at the hearing that the focus of that group has been the implementation, and several of the amendments they had requested had been added to the bill, including adding private schools to the bill, and bringing in an employee on a conditional basis if the investigation of an employee had “hit a roadblock,” he said. He said some immunity provisions had also been included. Pushman said the NJSBA also asked for clauses so the NJ Department of Education could play a more active role, including a standardized form and providing guidance. Another amendment the NJSBA had requested was clear definitions of child abuse and sexual misconduct.

Debra Bradley of the NJ Principal and Supervisors Association and Melanie Schulz of the NJ Association of School Administrators said at the hearing that their groups supported the bill as amended.

Rush Russell, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, said several groups support the bill including the County Prosecutors Association, the New Jersey PTA, the YMCA Alliance, the Court Appointed Alliance, Cares Institute and others. However, he objected to the use of the word “unsubstantiated” due to recent events and the MeToo movement, because “Using the standard of only substantiated cases would protect the offenders, and these individuals would be able to keep their crimes secret and keep their jobs in our schools. By definition, many of these crimes are never reported [to the police].”  

Chairman Teresa Ruiz said, “Before I cast my vote, I’d like to thank the sponsors for the work they’ve done, and it seems that you’ll continue to do, to listen to some of the concerns expressed by stakeholder groups. Just this week, in a different issue, but the fact that our schools are not safe [due to] school shootings […]. When we drop our kids off in an environment when we go to work, we want to be secure that they are safe. That is the least that we can do when they go into a school building. So thank you for making sure that we move in those steps to be sure that every school here in the garden state is a safe haven for all of our children. I vote yes.”

The committee voted unanimously to pass the bill to the Senate floor. The bill must also go to the Assembly Education Committee, Webber told TAPinto Montville.

The committee amended the bill to:

  • Include a definition of “child abuse” and “sexual misconduct”;
  • require nonpublic schools to adhere to the requirements of the bill;
  • provide that the prospective employer, in conducting the review of the employment history of an out-of-State applicant, will make and document efforts to verify the information provided by the applicant and obtain from any out-of-State employers the requested information;
  • Clarify that the review of the employment history may be conducted through telephonic, electronic, or written communications;
  • Provide that if employment history information is requested and that information is not provided in the 20-day timeframe, it may be grounds for the disqualification of an applicant; 
  • Provide that an employer will not be liable for any claims brought by an applicant or employee who is not offered employment or whose employment is terminated because of information received regarding sexual misconduct or child abuse, or due to the inability of an employer to conduct a full review of the applicant’s employment history;
  • Provide that an employer has the right to terminate a person’s employment or rescind an offer of employment if the person is offered employment or commences employment after the effective date of the bill and the information regarding sexual misconduct or child abuse is subsequently discovered or obtained; 
  • Provide procedures for employing a person on a provisional basis pending review of an applicant’s employment history;
  • Require the Department of Education to establish a public awareness campaign regarding provisions of the act and to develop forms which may be used to comply with the bill’s requirements; and,
  • Revise the effective date to have the bill be effective on the first day of the second month following enactment, rather than immediately.

Visit and read your exclusive Montville news at TAPinto Montville​ 24/7 for FREE: TAPinto​Montville​.net 

Sign up to receive FREE TAPinto news in your email inbox: www.tapinto.net/enews

Follow TAPinto on Twitter: @MontvilleTAP 

Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MontvilleTAP/

​​Download the FREE TAPinto App!  Click here for Android - Click here for iOS to get news as it is happening.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Montville

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_5def9edacdbc60dc8170_100_8457

Sat, February 24, 10:00 AM

Pyramid Mountain, Montville Township

"Forever Green" Hike (10&up)

Education Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_95e3d7dd242dd1aa94eb_lunar_new_year_library_2016

Sat, February 24, 1:00 PM

Montville Township Public Library, Montville

Lunar New Year Celebration at Library

Arts & Entertainment Education Food & Drink

Carousel_image_d7c7a8e8951f2fb58917_courtesy_of_morris_parks_-_pyramid_mountain_snowshoe_sundays

Sun, February 25, 1:00 PM

Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area, Montville Township

Snowshoe Sundays at Pyramid Mtn

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_f15a3596f4f9cf736afc_wizards

Sun, February 25, 5:00 PM

Montville Township High School, Montville

Harlem Wizards Fundraiser for Pathways

Education Food & Drink Giving Back Sports

Carousel_image_f3bbfda3a9c7868672d6_img_0659

Mon, February 26, 7:00 PM

Senior House, Montville

Montville Republican Club February Meeting

Government

Harlem Wizards Coming to Montville!

February 23, 2018

The Wizards are a basketball team of athletes that will dazzle you with their amazing slam dunks, dribbling, and hoop shots!  The Wizards bring the kids and fans out on the court for fun, dancing, and entertainment.  It is a fun filled family night!  See the video to get a sample of the talent you will see!

The Harlem Wizards are coming to Montville on Sunday ...

Boy Scout Michael Manetta Achieves Eagle Scout Ranking

February 11, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ – Members of Boy Scout Troop 74 gathered on Jan. 14 as Scout Michael Manetta was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout at his Court of Honor.

Officials such as members of the Montville Township Committee, the Montville Township Board of Education, former post commander Frank Warholic of VFW Post 5481, Dee Cook, who is treasurer of the Dog Park Advisory Committee and Fishawack ...

SHREK THE MUSICAL Comes to Montville Township High School

February 19, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ- SHREK THE MUSICAL is the spring production for the Montville Township High School Drama Club. The performers will stage the Tony Award-winning musical Thursday through Sunday, March 1 through 4 at MTHS. SHREK THE MUSICAL is based on the 2001 Dreamworks movie. Tickets to this fun family production are only $15 for adults and $12 for students and senior ...

The Morris County Crusaders Prepare for 2018 after Strong First Season

February 20, 2018

EAST HANOVER, NJ - When the discussion about football in an unlimited weight league among eighth graders, Coaches Odysseas Delaportas and Jeff Eisele of Jefferson decided to take action. American Youth Football, a non-profit football and cheer program bearing the logo, "non intrusive all inclusive seemed like a perfect fit. 

Delaportas and ...

Cops Called for Two People Shouting Racial Slurs During ‘Black Panther’ in Sparta

February 21, 2018

SPARTA, NJ – Sparta police were called to the New Vision Sparta Theater on Sunday night after a drunken woman and her boyfriend interrupted a screening of the movie “Black Panther” by shouting racial slurs, according to a witness and police.

Former New Jersey Assembly candidate Michael Grace was in the theater when two people started yelling racial slurs including ...

Harlem Wizards Coming to Montville!

February 23, 2018

The Wizards are a basketball team of athletes that will dazzle you with their amazing slam dunks, dribbling, and hoop shots!  The Wizards bring the kids and fans out on the court for fun, dancing, and entertainment.  It is a fun filled family night!  See the video to get a sample of the talent you will see!

The Harlem Wizards are coming to Montville on Sunday ...

Columns

How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

February 15, 2018

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating, leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The school shooting can have an ...

Ask the Care Advocate

Dear Heidi,

My mom lives home alone and a few days ago she fell while reaching for something

in her hallway closet. She was able to push her emergency alert button and they

called me. I live nearby so I went to check on her and she had pain in her leg and hip

area. We got her to the hospital and it turns out that she broke her hip. She had

surgery to repair it and now we are faced ...

Century 21 The Crossing Open Houses this Weekend

MONTVILLE, NJ - Following are Century 21 Open Houses this weekend:

Saturday, Feb. 24 from 1 - 4 p.m.

Brownstones at Fairfield, Stonybrook Circle (Using GPS - Enter 66 Two Bridges Road)

Sunday, Feb. 25 from 1 - 4 p.m. 

Brownstones at Fairfield, Stonybrook Circle (Using GPS - Enter 66 Two Bridges Road)
8 Summit Drive, Bld #10, North Caldwell

 

Another Luxury Listing in the Pond Section of Montville Presented by Century 21 The Crossing

MONTVILLE, NJ - Century 21 the Crossing and Jason Failla do it again!  Another luxury listing in the Pond section of Montville.

"This new listing has had over 13,000 views in less then a week," Century 21 The Crossing's Jason Failla said. "Anyone can list your home, it takes a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell it!"

"Luxury is in each ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 12

On this week’s episode of AtlantiCast, decade of excellence makes headlines, as Atlantic Health’s place on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For List leads off the newest episode of AtlantiCast. Also on this week’s show, check out the newest “hybrid” operating room at Morristown Medical Center and find out how Atlantic Health is helping local ...

The Best Way to Pay Your Child a Compliment

“Of course you’re good-looking.”  “You’re the best friend ever.”  “Who wouldn’t want you on their team?”  Is there a parent out there (including me) who hasn’t praised a child in order to make him or her feel better?  Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes we say it because we just can’t stand to see them ...

'What Stays' exposes family secrets and lies

‘What Stays’ exposes family secrets, resentment and lies

By Liz Keill

SUMMIT, NJ – In an original play by Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre has provided an enlightening, funny and heart-felt view of family foibles.

Ekstrand has said that the germ of the play came from conversations with the ensemble members of the troupe, based on ...

Pet Corner