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Fine Print: Senate Bill No. 295

Proposed legislation would bar school board members from serving if they’ve been convicted for a range of criminal offenses.

Synopsis: Disqualifies member of board of education for conviction of certain crimes and requires member to undergo criminal history background investigation.

Sponsors: Sens. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex)

What it means: The bill would pertain to all 4,800 school board members in New Jersey, barring them from holding office if they were ever convicted of any one of a range of more than a dozen crimes, from felonies to drug offenses, burglary, threats, criminal mischief or even usury. It would apply many of the same standards that are now required for teachers and other school employees, and increasingly for those who work with children as coaches and even school volunteers.

Key line: “For the purposes of this section, a conviction exists if the individual has been convicted, at any time, under the laws of this State or under any similar statutes of the United States or any other state for a substantially equivalent crime or other offense.”

Where it gets sticky: The bill would apply in the case of any conviction at any time, even if the crime may have been committed decades earlier. A Plainfield board member, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, testified before the Senate education committee that since his conviction for an unspecified offense in 1972, he has been active in a wide range of community and school organizations and can boast character references from even a few legislators who are sponsoring the measure. He submitted those references as part of his testimony. “If this passed, it would require my removal from the board,” he said.

Other concerns: The law would only apply to school board members, and not other elected officials or charter school trustees. It would also require the school board members to pay for the criminal background checks.

Good chance for passing: The Senate Education Committee recommended approval to the full Senate, posted for next Monday. It has already passed the Assembly by a vote of 80-0.

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