Lawmakers introduce bill to augment criminal background checks on school bus personnel

Senators Jim Beach, (D-6), Camden, and Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Monroe, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D-37), Bergen, have introduced legislation that would augment criminal background checks for school bus personnel to include all adults given responsibility for the safety of school children, closing a loophole that they say had left bus aides free from scrutiny.

The measure also would enhance penalties against any employee found tampering with a school bus’ on-board monitoring device.

Beach said in a release that the changes were spurred in part by last year’s arrest of a Waterford School District bus aide on allegations that he had repeatedly molested a young girl. While the accused did not have a criminal record, Beach said the incident highlighted the loophole that left bus aides out from the background check requirements.

“We take care to ensure that the person driving a school bus does not have a criminal past, but we have nothing in place to ensure that other adults overseeing students are similarly cleared,” said Beach (D-Camden). “A bus driver must remain in their seat while the vehicle is moving, while a bus aide has free reign to roam the bus at all times. To not require them to undergo the same scrutiny as the driver does not make sense.”

The “School Bus Safety and Child Protection Act,” (S2821) would clarify current law by requiring bus drivers and aides in both public and charter school districts – as well as for any school which receives public funding for busing – to undergo criminal background checks prior to employment; private and parochial schools would be fully authorized to conduct similar checks on their bus personnel. Any employee accused of committing a disqualifying offense would be suspended until the case is resolved – with a conviction or other admission of guilt resulting in immediate termination.

The Beach/Greenstein bill was formally introduced Monday, when the Senate convened. Vainieri Huttle said she would introduce the Assembly measure when that chamber next meets later this spring.

Lawmakers introduce bill to augment criminal background checks on school bus personnel