Tightening “Pass the Trash” Law

By Vin Gopal


In 2018, the state legislature passed a bill to prevent educators and school employees with documented histories of sexual misconduct or child abuse from obtaining new employment in another school district by keeping their past misconduct private.

However, after receiving allegations that the law, known as the “Pass the Trash” law, was being circumvented, the State Commission of Investigations (SCI) conducted a review and just issued its report last week. The SCI found that the law has been manipulated by educators seeking to keep their past misdeeds private.

Nothing is more important than the safety of children. Parents and students have a right to expect their schools to be safe havens and no one should have to fear for their safety when they leave for school in the morning.

That’s why we are preparing to introduce legislation to address gaps in the law as soon as possible. We have put together a number of proposals that I am confident will build on the recommendations the SCI made in its report to expand on the protections created under the 2018 law and ensure those protections are subject to rigorous state oversight.  

The SCI’s analysis found that the “Pass the Trash” law relies too heavily on educators with histories of inappropriate or abusive conduct with students to fully disclose past misdeeds to their new employers. The analysis also pointed out there is no state agency charged with oversight responsibility for the law’s obligations. Nor is there a statewide, standardized process for collecting, reporting and verifying information concerning school employees with substantiated investigations of sexual misconduct or child abuse. Instead, each of New Jersey’s 593 school districts is left to develop its own method for collecting, reporting and verifying the information.

The SCI has discovered that the ‘Pass the Trash’ law has been manipulated not only by educators seeking to keep their past misdeeds private, but also by school districts that have either disregarded or improperly followed the law’s provisions. Without outside oversight or auditing by county or state officials, schools have no assurances that the information provided by applicants or prior employers is accurate, nor if such information is routinely disseminated to successor employer school districts to keep them from hiring a suspected child predator.

An SCI analysis of a sampling of districts’ recordkeeping practices found spotty compliance with the law. All of the districts had missing forms, incomplete information and/or other failures in meeting the basic requirements of the statute. We are crafting legislation now to address the concerns found in the SCI report.

In another education-related matter, as this column goes to print the state Senate Education Committee is meeting with school superintendents and education stakeholders to listen to their suggestions on reforming the school funding formula. The state legislature amended the school funding formula in 2018. Known as S2, the amended law attempted to correct historical imbalances in how much aid the state was providing school districts, especially districts that saw their enrollment drop. As a result of S2, many school districts realized a dramatic decrease in aid and some of our LD11 school districts are among the hardest hit.   

As your state representatives, Assemblywomen Dr. Margie Donlon and Luanne Peterpaul and I will continue to be at the forefront of protecting students, school districts and property taxpayers in addressing the inequities of the school funding formula.