Senator Steve Saland (R,I,C Poughkeepsie) today announced that legislation he authored (S.5669), which will provide an additional layer of protection for children abused by school employees, volunteers or other children in a school setting, is proceeding toward passage in the Senate. The legislation also enhances the background check procedure for school bus drivers and attendants.
"It is disheartening to read the many news reports of children being physically or sexually victimized on school buses, and we wonder how it could possibly happen", said Senator Saland. "When school employees have delayed or failed to report these criminal incidents on school grounds in a timely fashion, it has caused further trauma to the victim and made it much more difficult for law enforcement to properly deal with the perpetrator. This legislation extends the mandatory reporting to school bus drivers and attendants."
In a landmark law authored by Senator Saland in 2000, any allegation made by a student that he or she was physically or sexually abused by a school employee or volunteer had to be immediately reported by the school to law enforcement authorities. This law was passed to prevent such allegations from being swept under the rug. Previously, accused school employees were allowed to quietly resign and, in many cases, given a glowing recommendation, allowing them to find another job in a school and possibly abuse more students. At the time, this phenomenon was so common it actually had a name -- "passing the trash". This legislation builds upon the 2000 law by providing that sexual abuse committed by a child upon another child on school grounds must be immediately reported to law enforcement.
Additionally, this legislation enhances background check requirements for school bus drivers and attendants. Under existing law, prospective school bus drivers and attendants must be fingerprinted and subjected to a criminal history check, but they are not reviewed under the same stringent standards (also enactedby Senator Saland in his 2000 law) as other school employees. Currently, an applicant could obtain a school bus drivers license as little as five years after being released from incarceration for certain sex crimes, and other felonies such as 1st degree robbery, criminally negligent homicide and 2nd degree manslaughter. Under this legislation, the same stringent criminal history background check standards will be used to screen bus drivers and attendants as those applied to other school employees.
"It is vitally important that children know they can tell a trusted teacher they have been victimized in school and that their allegations will be taken seriously. Parents also need to be confident that every school employee their children come in contact with has been properly screened so dangerous criminals do not have access to their children in a school setting," Saland continued.
This legislation would take effect July 1, 2008, just in time for the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.