News & Resources

New Jersey can access FBI database for Board of Education background checks

Jul 21, 2011 Matt Roesly

The New Jersey Department of Education recently received approval to leverage the FBI's criminal history database in order to conduct background screening procedures on Board of Education members, according to The North Jersey Record. State Governor Chris Christie ratified the background check bill in May, but the United States Department of Justice took time to consider whether to allow access to its databases before approving the measure last week. The initial deadline requiring trustees to undergo a background investigation within 30 days of the legislation's passage was postponed while the state waited for federal approval. According to DoE spokeswoman Faith Sarafin, further delays are to be expected while the department develops guidelines to help school districts meet the specifications of the new law, the news source reports. The New Jersey School Boards Association welcomed the delays because they afford more time for the legislative requirements to be ironed out. "It is critical that the background check process be one that operates smoothly and effectively, with a minimum of inconvenience to board members," NJSBA spokesman Frank Belluscio told the news source. In addition to mandating background checks on all trustees, the bill requires the disqualification of BoE members who have been convicted of first- and second-degree crimes including bias intimidation, robbery, aggravated assault and an assortment of drug-related charges. The legislation, which was introduced in January 2010 and pertains to school district and charter school board members, had an easy passage through the state's Senate and Assembly - both of which approved it in February of this year. In May, Governor Christie conditionally vetoed the bill on the recommendation that bias intimidation and fourth-degree crimes in which minor victims were involved be added as grounds for disqualification, the news source explains. According to the Hillsborough Patch, the law initially proposed that members pay out of pocket for the screenings. In response to consternation from the NJSBA, this was revised to allow the option of having the cost - which could be as high as $100, according to Policy Committee Chairman Judy Haas - absorbed by the local school district. "I figure we should get reimbursed for this because it is a state requirement," Board President Steven Paget told the news source.