Board Member Criminal Background Checks

The Star-Ledger reports on a Plainfield school board member, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, who has a conviction on his record dating back to 1968 for possession of “a small bag of heroin.” The new state law (A 444) says that all NJ board of education members must undergo criminal background checks, so Abdul-Haqq has been disqualified, in spite of the fact that he’s been a law-abiding citizen for the last 40 years.

Now Abdul-Haqq has filed suit in State Superior Court claiming that, while he shouldn’t be allowed to run for reelection, he should be able to serve out his term. His lawyer says that “removing board members in the middle of a term would mean a violation of the constitution’s ‘ex-post facto’ clause, which expressly forbids laws that retroactively change legal consequences. Abdul-Haqq says that his removal would “disenfranchise voters.”

NJ School Boards Association notes that when the law requiring criminal background checks for school employees was passed in the mid-1980’s, the law wasn’t applied retroactively.

Abdul-Haqq is not the only board member in this pickle. The Press of Atlantic City reports on an A.C. Board member, George Crouch, who lost his elected post last month after a criminal background check divulged that he had a drug-related offense on his record dating back to 1992.

NJSBA reported last week that only about half of NJ’s school board members had completed the newly-required finger-printing process.