Fine Print: Ruiz-Madden Bill Package Protect Students from Sexual Abuse

June 15, 2018

What it is: State Sens. Teresa Ruiz and Fred Madden, chairs of the Senate’s education and labor committees, respectively, have proposed a set of six bills that would place new requirements on schools and the state to train, monitor, and enforce student protections against sexual abuse, including by teachers and staff. The bills were taken up by the Senate education committee yesterday.

What it means: The hastily crafted bills come — coming months after a video was released showing teacher union leaders in Hamilton and Union City boasting about how they protect and even cover up for members accused of sexual abuse. The hidden-camera video was taken by the controversial organization headed by conservative activist James O’Keefe, but lawmakers of both parties said no matter the source, the video revealed how greater protections are needed.

Numbers back them up: New Jersey last year saw 31 teachers lose their licenses due child endangerment or sexual misconduct, according to state officials at a hearing last week. Another 20 have lost their licenses this year so far. 

It’s ongoing: “Since that hearing last month, we have seen two more cases (of reported teacher sexual abuse),” said Shelley Skinner of Better Education for Kids, an advocacy group that called for the new measures. “We really appreciate the committees’ urgency to pass legislation to ensure the safety of our students.”

What the bills would do: The six bills are a mix of requirements, starting with those calling for specific training about sexual abuse for all staff working with students, as well as state arbitrators adjudicating misconduct charges. Other bills would tighten or close loopholes in the rules for criminal background checks of all new staff and requirements that all suspected misconduct be reported, including to law enforcement. Under one bill, a staff member who fails to report suspected abuse by another could see his or her license revoked or suspended. 

Importance of training: Nationally, educators are the likeliest profession to identify and report instances of child abuse. “Yet studies show two-thirds of teachers do not receive training in preventing, reporting, and responding to child abuse,” said Olga Starr of the New Jersey’s Children’s Alliance in testimony before the Senate committee yesterday.

Task force: One bill would create a new state task force on sexual abuse in schools to help provide guidance on proper policies and practices for districts. Another bill would require each district to have such policies.

Protections exist now: The package of bills could be seen as redundant in some cases; there are a host of measures already in place that require reporting of suspected abuse and criminal background checks of all employees. But the bill would go further and, for example, add the background checks on after-school staff and other adults who come in contact with students in school.

Union support: The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has been in the cross-hairs of this latest scandal, since it was the leaders of their two locals in Hamilton and Union City who were caught on tape. The statewide union’s leadership has criticized the subterfuge used to take the video and called the incidents anomalies. But it nonetheless has agreed to the proposed measures and yesterday supported the bills without testifying.

Fast track: Each of the bills won unanimous approval by the state Education Committee yesterday, and Ruiz said they will move directly to Senate vote. There are not yet Assembly versions of the bills.

New Jersey task force report: Teaching, learning both key

March 14, 2011

New Jersey teachers should be judged by both their classroom performance and student test scores, a Christie administration task force recommended in a report made public Thursday.

This proposed evaluation system, if enacted by the Legislature, would influence high-stakes decisions about teachers pay and tenure once it’s phased in over the next few years. The report recommends piloting the system this fall.

“As a superintendent, it’s startling to me that we still use models of evaluations solely focused on teaching, rather than on teaching and learning,” said Brian Zychowski, task force chairman and superintendent of North Brunswick schools.

The unveiling came one day after the state’s largest teachers union denounced any measurement of teachers based on student performance.

The New Jersey Education Association argued using student test scores to evaluate teachers would weaken curricula and promote teaching to the test.

For this, Gov. Chris Christie once again publicly scolded the union.

“I find it fascinating that before the report was even issued or made public that the New Jersey Education Association already came out opposed to it,” Christie said Thursday at a press conference. “Their charge is to protect the worst teachers, and they know the worst teachers will be outed.”

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf announced plans to create a new method to assess teachers two weeks ago in an address at Princeton University.

Task force members sought to dispel another argument that’s been circulated by the teachers union Ã? that they were puppets of the governor, asked to produce a report that makes recommendations he supports.

The nine-member task force, which includes state and national education experts as well as two union members, spent five months drafting the report.

“If this were a canned report, we wouldn’t have recommended multiple measures of evaluation and flexible options about what factors to weigh more or less,” Zychowski said. “And today the governor said he will seek even further input from education experts and stakeholders to refine the system’s implementation.”

Under the system, teachers would be evaluated 50 percent on student growth during the academic year Ã? not just on student success at year’s end Ã? and 50 percent on their ability to deliver lessons in the classroom. The task force also recommended the evaluation of school principals, whose compensation and job security could also be determined in part by an average of student test scores.

The New Jersey School Boards Association applauded the recommendations, in particular linking teacher evaluations and student achievement. Association executive director Marie Bilik called for local boards objectives to be reflected in the new system as details are shaped.

But the state has a lot of work to do, including shoring up the data system to link teachers to their students test scores and creating assessments for three-quarters of the state’s educators who teach grades and subjects that are currently untested in a standardized way.