New Jersey’s Assembly recently approved a bill which would allow high schools to access non Juvenile student criminal records. The impetus for the bill was an incident wherein a 19 year old student convicted of rape had transferred to a NJ high school that was totally unaware of his prior criminal history. Under the bill, high school officials would be made aware of certain criminal convictions of students who are 18 or older, but Juvenile Crime records would remain protected. The bill also requires transferring school districts to report certain criminal convictions when one of its students transfers to another district.
I foresee a whole host of issues arising out of this bill. While legitimate state interests exist for protecting innocent students, I can certainly foresee school boards acting based on form rather than substance. For example, how about the kid who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and has to take a criminal conviction – will his opportunity to get himself into college be eliminated altogether as a result of an expulsion? Another concern is how records of Juvenile criminal offenses shall fit into this situation given the fact that it is already commonplace for school officials to get wind of Juvenile convictions. This law clearly has the potential for misapplication. Appropriate guidelines for the use of this information needs to be mandated to insure that all of the competing interests are fully protected.