Monday, March 25, 2013

Educating Teachers on Mandated Reporting

We wrote an earlier post about an elementary school principal in San Jose, California, who was convicted of misdemeanor failing to report suspected child abuse after a mother and her daughter told the principal about a second-grade teacher who acted "strangely" while alone with the girl in a classroom.

In Brentwood, California, the school district paid $950,000 to settle a lawsuit against one of its special education teachers, Dina Holder, who pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child abuse after throwing a five-year-old special needs student onto the floor and kicking him. The teacher's aides reported the incident to the school principal who waited two days before calling Child Protective Services (CPS), and never submitted a follow-up written report as required by law.

As a result of reports like these, the Bay Area News Group conducted a survey of California school districts and found that less than half that responded had provided annual training on recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse.  And, some districts didn't understand what the law requires. For example, some districts require employees to first report suspected abuse to school administrators rather than calling the authorities. However, the law requires mandated reporters to report their suspicions directly to CPS or police – reporting to school administrators does not fulfill their legal duty.

This survey prompted California's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, to send a letter to all school districts, requesting information about their child abuse training.  Torlakson also said he would support legislation to strengthen the state's mandated reporter law.

California Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan has introduced legislation that would require all school districts to adopt policies outlining child abuse reporting requirements and to review those policies annually with all employees.

However, William Grimm, senior attorney at Oakland's National Center for Youth Law, doesn't think the proposed legislation goes far enough. "A large part of the problem is the district's failure to provide training that helps school staff understand what should be reported. Until training is mandated for all school staff, there will continue to be victims whose suffering goes unreported."