School board member background-check law catching on

TRENTON – In May, a bill was passed requiring school board members to undergo a criminal background check.

It appears that after a slow start, an overwhelming number of those members have undergone the checks and a few have even been disqualified following it.

Still, based on the most recent state Department of Education data, some 554 school board members or charter school trustees have yet to submit to the criminal background check. They don’t even have to physically show up, since registering through an online system would suffice, according to spokesman Mike Yaple.

Since its implementation, 13 members have been disqualified, nine from  local boards of education and four from charter school trustee boards.  

There are approximately 5,000 members serving on public or charter school governing bodies throughout the state.  

Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill, after the Assembly and Senate passed respective versions of it. The Assembly bill, A444, was sponsored by members Jerry Green, Jack Conners, Herb Conaway, and Mila Jasey, and the Senate legislation was sponsored by Diane Allen and Barbara Buono.

Yaple said that participation was initially spotty, but that the compliance rate shot up once word got out members would be disqualified for not providing necessary information. Last year, some 1,600 members participated in the background checks.

Another thing that hampered implementation was that many companies that perform such checks had to update their software to include school board members.

“They weren’t ready up until July,” Yaple said.

The checks usually involve the New Jersey State Police, and a federal registry, among other tools, to look for certain offenses.

Originally, Christie conditionally vetoed the legislation because it didn’t include disqualification for individuals convicted of fourth-degree offenses on minors.  

While the legislation is by-and-large serving its purpose, Yaple recommended that there should be a way for certain individuals who were disqualified for very minor things to be allowed to continue serving on boards.

“There should be a mechanism that allows school board members to show they’ve rehabilitated, that they have turned their lives around,” he said. “Many of them have turned into pillars of their community.”

School board member background-check law catching on