Howard Beach, NY (March 14, 2016) In an effort to increase transparency with regard to the creation of state education policy and to better protect school children from harm, NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. recently voted to approve three pieces of legislation that would require the State Board of Regents to expand public access to their meetings and to consider a new age-appropriate curriculum to help pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade learn about the dangers of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
“The State Board of Regents is the primary policy-making body for education in New York State, and it is important that members of the public have ready access to information about issues that are being addressed and steps that are being taken affecting our schools, students, teachers and other stakeholders,” said Addabbo, a long-time member of the Senate Education Committee. “These bills will assist in this effort and also help to encourage a dialogue on how best to protect our school children from sexual abuse from family members and other people in positions of trust.”
The first bill (S.965), which Addabbo co-sponsors, would require the Board of Regents to hold at least two meetings a year in New York City and to provide public notification of the date, place, time and agenda for the gatherings.
“New York City parents have often expressed a desire to have more input into state education policy decisions, and this legislation would help to provide an opportunity for participation,” he said. A public comment period of up to 30 minutes would be offered at the meetings.
A second proposal (S.1796) would require all Board of Regents meeting to be live-streamed and available for viewing by the public.
“Board of Regents meetings may run for many hours and are sometimes not fully archived on the State Education Department website,” said Addabbo. “Since the meetings are most often held in Albany, many interested parents and other parties throughout the state are not able to make the trip to attend. This legislation would help to ensure more transparency and public access to Regents proceedings.”
The third bill (S.1947), known as Erin Merryn’s Law and co-sponsored by Addabbo, is named after a young woman who was sexually abused as a child by both a neighbor and a family member, and who has been urging legislatures across the United States to require that children receive instruction in school about this kind of devastating abuse.
“Since 1994, New York State has required that children in grades K-8 engage in age-appropriate classroom discussions about child abduction, often known as ‘stranger danger’ instruction,” said Addabbo. “But kidnapping by a stranger is much less common than sexual abuse of a child by a relative, family friend, teacher or other person that the child knows and should be able to trust. Kids are taught to scream and run away from suspicious strangers, but they might not know what to do, or who to tell, when someone they know is scaring or hurting them.”
Under the bill, the Commissioner of the State Education Department would – after consultation with the public, educators, students, and other stakeholders – provide recommendations to the Board of Regents for a curriculum based around sexual exploitation and molestation. If approved, schools would need to provide appropriate instruction to children in kindergarten through eighth grade about child exploitation and abuse. This could be combined with instruction already being provided about child abduction and should not require any additional classroom time or significant resources.
“I am hopeful the State Assembly will now join with the Senate in approving these bills before the end of the 2016 legislative session,” said Addabbo.
The proposals, having passed the Senate, are now under review by the Assembly Committee on Education.