Part of the Bay Area News Group

Bay Area News Group reporting prompts calls for mandatory training in identifying and reporting child abuse

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, February 17th, 2014 at 10:29 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Nearly a year after Bay Area News Group published a survey of 94 school districts that showed more than half didn’t train their employees in spotting and reporting child abuse, state and national leaders are calling for mandatory training.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said last month that he asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to survey school districts throughout the nation about their sex abuse reporting policies, in part based on reports he read in this newspaper about abuse of children by school teachers that was not reported to police or Child Protective Services as required by law. Miller stressed that Title IX also requires schools to keep children safe from sexual harassment or abuse.

He was particularly troubled by the fact that teachers in these cases often “groomed” students for abuse by befriending them first, then paying special attention to them outside of school hours. Miller said school employees should be trained to spot grooming behavior and report that to authorities, in order to prevent sexual abuse from occurring.

Last week, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced his support for AB 1432, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, which would require formal training for all school employees on the identification and reporting of suspected child abuse.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children at school,” Torlakson wrote, in a letter to Gatto. “California has had child abuse reporting laws on the books since 1963 — for more than five decades. And yet, even as changing state laws have expanded the number and nature of ‘mandatory reporters,’ never have they required any accompanying training in these duties. This does a disservice to both school employees and to the children these laws are meant to protect.

Our efforts to make our schools safer and help prevent crimes against children must also include giving educators and others who work with children the very best training and guidance available.

According to a recent media report, fewer than half of 94 school districts surveyed actually train employees on the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect. School districts that do not provide training are required — under existing law — to notify the California Department of Education (CDE) of their reasons for doing so. Despite our best efforts to make districts aware of these responsibilities, we have received no such notifications. Clearly, current requirements fall short.

That is why I am pleased to see AB 1432 take a step forward by requiring that all school employees receive training at the beginning of every school year in their legal obligation to report child abuse and neglect. But it also ensures that the local educational agencies providing this training have assistance, by requiring the CDE, in consultation with the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in the California Department of Social Services, to provide information and guidelines on mandatory reporter training. Importantly, this training would also now be required to include the fact that failure to report constitutes a misdemeanor punishable with jail time and a fine.

Across California, educators and school communities feel a genuine responsibility toward the children they serve — for their education and their safety and well-being. They do not believe their job begins when the bell rings and ends at the schoolyard gate, and they know that we cannot expect a fearful child to learn …”

The failure of school districts to adequately train employees in identifying and reporting suspected abuse or grooming behavior can have tragic results. In the Mt. Diablo school district, former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin has been charged with 125 molestation counts involving 13 former students at the Concord school.

Two lawsuits filed last Tuesday on behalf of nine students allege the abuse could have been prevented if district officials had alerted police or Child Protective Services of suspicions that first came to light in 2005-06.

Here is a Guest Commentary by Carol Carrillo, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa, regarding the need for better training in schools: http://www.contracostatimes.com/opinion/ci_25136650/training-is-designed-make-children-safe-from-abuse

She notes that her agency is now offering training in MDUSD. But, back when we did our survey, I e-mailed Julie Braun Martin about this training and she responded that the district’s legal department was pursuing different training. This was before the Martin case came to light. As Carillo states, MDUSD obviously needed a “wake up call” before it was willing to take this training seriously.

Interestingly, Carillo also talks about training for students. Perhaps if MDUSD offered the “Speak Up, Be Safe” program, Woodside students would have spoken up sooner about Martin’s behavior and would have realized that it was wrong.

Do you think the state should require districts to train employees in spotting and reporting abuse?

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  • 2busymom

    I find it completely unbelievable that anyone working with children is not 100% aware of their legal responsibility to report any suspicions to CPS. I have worked with children for over 25 years, and was fully aware of this right from the get go. Even if for some unfathomable reason they were not aware of their legal responsibility, any moral compass should have directed them to report the abuse of a defenseless child at the hands of any adult. Shame on every single one of them that shirked their legal and moral responsibility, licenses should be permanently revoked!!!

  • tmharrington

    Pleasanton school district is being very transparent about its PRAs, posting them for everyone to see: http://pleasantonusd.net/about-our-district/public-records-requests/

    The only problem with this is that they are posting the name of the person who made the request. That could be a disincentive for people to submit requests. By law, an agency is not supposed to ask for a person’s name when a PRA is made. But, for everyone who wants to know how to submit a PRA, this is a good resource!

  • Concerned13

    That was helpful, Theresa — thank you.

  • Guest

    It is unbelievable; they ALL knew their obligation to report. They [each and every person who knew of the suspicion] just did not act on their legal obligation. I suspect the site staff believed their site principal would report. Beyond that, it will get shadier as one moves up the totem pole of the number of people in charge who should have reported.

  • Guest

    TM, do you have any understanding of why Gail Isserman was not named in the lawsuits? Was she not in charge of oversight of both Sachs and Martin?

  • Doctor J

    And so was Roger Bylund, now Supt of Paradise USD. Why wasn’t he made a defendant ?

  • Doctor J

    Third molestation suit filed on February 14 for 3 more John Does and one Jane doe. Attorney is not listed on court website.

  • Jane Doe

    Why has Dr J not been named? He or She is privy to everything ?

  • Doctor J

    @janedoe aka frustrated What is it that you are frustrated with ? The truth ? The back room deals ? I have been named — I am Doctor J.

  • Guest

    I think Frustrated may be a named defendant, or is close to one. I am offended by Frustrated’s comment, which is defensive, and in my opinion, is posted to distract others who read this blog from the real issues at issue in the lawsuit, and denigrates the trauma of the victims of Joseph Marin and their family. Jane Doe needs to find her (or his) empathy, if there is any there.

  • tmharrington

    Guest, It appears that the plaintiffs went after the highest profile targets. Certainly Gail Isserman would have had oversight over Sachs and Martin and should have known about the plans that required him to keep his door open, etc.
    In speaking with attorney Stan Casper, it’s my understanding that Julie Braun-Martin is the one who notified police in April of the allegations against Martin, after she was alerted to them by Jenny Cronan. It’s unclear why she wasn’t monitoring Martin more closely in the first place, however, based on the previous allegations.

  • Guy Moore

    Biggest story of the year (NHS) and Doctor J has made zero comments.
    Something is very suspicious because “I am Doctor J” weighs in on everything.

  • Doctor J

    Guy, which story are you referring to ?

  • Guy Moore

    Doctor J, I am referring to the CC Times article about NHS that appeared front page on 2/17/14 and to the large editorial that appeared in the CC Times today 2/20/14.

  • Doctor J

    Guy, I pointed out a week ago several times that there were no posted minutes authorizing McMorris to receive $20,000 and neither did the budget. Why didn’t you ask the board for a cure and correct for refusing to allow public comment before the vote ? It’s not too late.

  • Guy Moore

    Doctor J, I was not called to speak so I let the Board handle the item which was approving the Model UN trip to New York. Then, I spoke up when they were finished. I waited because I believe that students should be allowed to go to New York and I did not want to derail their trip. Two Northgate teachers were approved to accompany the group. I do not think the principal was approved to go based on what I heard the Board approve.

  • Doctor J

    Guy, I was hoping you were right, but sorry you are wrong. The agenda item was for McMorris and two teachers as chaperones to go. I posted a comment on the editorial page to the editorial, have you ?

  • Doctor J

    $40,000 under the table (no minutes, no budget) and Dr. Nellie does nothing ? Admiral Bill would have relieved McMorris of command, court-marshaled him, and then thrown him in the brig. Dr. Nellie needs to show she is tough enough — time to clean the MDUSD house.

  • Guy Moore

    Doctor J, I just posted my comment on the editorial comments section.

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD Opposition filed today with Declarations of Cooksey and Williams. Theresa, can you please upload these three documents ASAP ? Crooksey should have a tale to tell. Also Gafni reports molestation counts increased to 150 and 14 victims — trial off to May. Is anyone daydreaming of what it would be like for Martin to get a new cell mate by the name of McMorris ? Ironic, eh ?

  • Doctor J

    Houston, we have a problem. Northgate PFC Federal tax returns don’t show McMorris getting any money — is this now tax fraud ? Guidestar shows the federal tax returns of Nortgate PFC and although McMorris is listed as an officer and board member it reports his compensation as zero –see page 7, Part VII. It also says that no officers or directors received grants from the organization. Tax return prepared by Brent Baxter. Tax returns are required to be given to the public on request. Theresa, perhaps you will want to upload that tax return to show how they raise a half million dollars while most of the needy schools can’t even send their students on field trips. Economic inequality.

  • Frustrated

    I meant why is DrJ not being named in the lawsuit. He claims to know everything gojngn in the district so why did he not make a report in regards to Martin case. He has knowledge of everything else. Why not this?

  • Steve

    When was last time the books were audited for the Northgate PFC. There is nothing in their minutes to indicate one was done. According to their own by-laws it must be done once a year as soon after the end of the fiscal year as practical. I wonder how the parents feel about the PFC officers spending their contributions in such a careless and unethical fashion. Just mind boggling the corruption with the whole lot of them.

  • Doctor J

    Why aren’t the Jan 16 Northgate PFC minutes posted with the agenda ? Is Mcmorris having his attorney review them first ? Why isn’t the School Board speaking out on this issue ? Barbara Oaks, President, and Cheryl Hansen, Past President, are both former Principals. Do they approve of McMorris’ shenanigans ?

  • tmharrington

    I have received these from our attorney and will upload them. I also received our attorney’s declaration, including exhibits, in three chunks, which I will also upload. They include the very interesting notes of the police officer who dealt with Cooksey regarding the 2006 report. Remarkably, the attorney conducting the investigation decided NOT to interview the boy who raised the allegations. Instead, the attorney interviewed Martin himself, who provided letters from students and their parents that he had solicited, talking about how much they all liked him.
    Also, as noted in Gafni’s reporting, the police report notes that several ideas for alleviating future concerns – such as keeping his door open and not doing skits that involved contact with students – were NEVER practiced by Martin or enforced by the district.

  • tmharrington
  • Guest

    Do we know if the parent of the child would allow him to be interviewed? Sometimes the parents refuse to let their child be interviewed by school district investigators. Also, the attorney who did the investigation was not experienced in conducting these personnel investigations; he was a construction litigator. Don’t know why that hasn’t received more press. He left AALRR and is now at 3F.

  • tmharrington
  • Doctor J

    Cooksey fingers Gail Isserman as responsible for the investigation. How Cooksey can testify what the practice was in 2006 when she was in Oakland is befuddling. Interestingly Rolen cops out and does not testify. Williams testimony is so vague as to what he was asked to do. Most importantly there was never any testimony that the letter was not passed around by Isserman and Rolen — any bets on whether Jen Sachs saw it ? Whether Julie B-M saw it ? Was placed in Martin’s personnel file for every Principal and office manager to see ?

  • Guest

    Not even having read these declarations, this is exactly why I inquired as to why Gail Isserman has not been named in the lawsuits.

  • g. de la verdad

    Laughable maneuvering to everyone but the victims. It’s like asking 5 kids “who wrote “that” word on the blackboard?” And each points to another. Then today’s legal counsel falls back on Penal Code 11167.5(b) with NO acknowledgement of that Code’s inclusion within and reference to, or the District’s complete failure of responsibility under Penal Codes SECTION 11164-11174.3.

  • tmharrington

    I believe the lawsuits include additional “Does” unknown at the time of filing, which could be added as additional information became available.

  • Kandi Poh Lancaster

    As a teacher in a neighboring district, I didn’t think I was “under trained” with regard to child abuse reporting issues. Then I volunteered for a mission trip with my church and was required to complete an online training for a background check. Wow. . .that training was light years ahead of ANY training I have ever received in my almost 20 years as a “mandated reporter”.

  • tmharrington

    Kandi, Thanks for sharing this information. What was the training program?

  • tmharrington

    Here is a story I did about countywide efforts to improve programs and services for children who have experienced trauma, including abuse: http://www.contracostatimes.com/contra-costa-times/ci_25203394/contra-costa-county-strives-improve-trauma-treatment-children

    This presentation was very enlightening about pointed out the pitfalls of “one size fits all” therapeutic practices and programs. It also pointed out that entire communities need to focus on these issues, not just therapists.

  • Kandi Poh Lancaster

    The program is conducted through the CA Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church. cnumc.org
    It was part of a background check.

  • Doctor J

    Such contempt shown to Brian Lawrence once again by Julie B-M — probably the same “smirk” on her face. Public kept in dark once again about the secret appointments. Other agenda issues: Special meeting minutes: where is the mandatory reporting out to the public ?? Did the board violate the law once again ? When did the Board approve the settlement with Jane Doe and FAIL to report it to the public (see 4.2) ??? New legal services contract omits the stated Addendum 1 to the contract. How can the public comment on something that is concealed from them ? Item 16.1, the tule fog spending plan for $6.3 million for Common Core, but we aren’t giving the public specifics or details. How condescending to the public ! Go to fcmat.org today and big article on should we buy MacBook Airs or Cromebooks ? Our district insults us by not telling us which. Hide the ball once again. How can you even divide. Up the amount into three areas without estimates ? Will any Measure C money financed over 40 years be used to purchase computer equipment outdated in 3 years ?? Will the Board vote for Tule Fog Accounting ? Wow, Tim Cody and Mitchell Stark both self promoted themselves to Measure C Program Managers ! Shouldn’t that be “co-Program Manager” ?? see item 19.7 attachment. $6.5 million NO bid contract to “our loyal friend” Taber Construction. Then check out Item 19.8 for YVHS — Manager Tim Cody originally estimated the TOTAL project at $65,000. Cody gives his “bud” a contract boost to $895,000 . I can’t wait until Theresa publishes Cody’s FPPC Form 700. But the one I love the most is Student Services department’s self serving promotional slide show by Juris doctorate Felicia S-S who conveniently leaves out the most criticized duty of student services and herself — THE RESPONSIBILITY to train all employees in MANDATORY REPORTING of suspected abuse of children. Sorry Dr. FSS abut the Board has not changed your job description despite your “record” on lack of qualified mandatory training.

  • Doctor J

    Is there a settlement with Diablo View MS student who accused Cotrell of molestation ?? See Item 4.2 on agenda for Wednesday ..

  • tmharrington

    You’re right that that case refers to Cotrell. It looks like the plaintiff has dropped Patti Bannister from the suit, but is still suing the district and Cotrell.

  • tmharrington

    I agree there should be more info presented. However, I was pleased to see an actual staff report attached to the Common Core presentation, instead of the usual paragaph on the board docket and PowerPoint: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/0d945361-866e-4d87-8d6f-e68f438b065b.pdf

    I hope this bodes well for future WRITTEN staff reports accompanying agenda items.

  • Doctor J

    the Board needs to demand detailed written staff reports instead of being patronized with marshmallow power points that say little useful information.

  • tmharrington

    I hope the board fully discusses the Taber Contract. As you can see in the minutes, the board already entered into a lease-leaseback for the SAME project in December with Kenridge Builders. What happened? And how much did it cost to break that contract?

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, I would fully expect your inquiring mind to call Kenridge builders. I wonder if Taber was so bent out shape that it threatened to “spill the beans” if it didn’t get the contract. Based on what you learn from Kenridge, perhaps a PRA request for all documents to and from Kenridge and Taber might be revealing. Something changed between December 11 (board meeting) and Fed 12 (Taber signs agreement).

  • tmharrington

    It changed by Jan. 10, when the district entered into a PSA Agreement with Taber WITHOUT board approval. The staff report doesn’t even mention the previous PSA and LLB with Kenridge.

  • Doctor J

    Something is rotten in Denmark. Taber was ranked 4th and Kenridge 1st on Board analysis presented to board on Sept 25. So how did Bret Taber get polyester blazer self appointed Meas C manager Tim Cody to advance Taber Construction to number one ? Cody must have got a hellafa Christmas present — and I don’t think it was a new tie (although I am sure tired of the same tie every two weeks).

  • Doctor J

    Which construction company was present at the Northgate Aquatics Center Dec 18 groundbreaking ?

  • tmharrington

    Our Walnut Creek reporter’s recap of the press release doesn’t mention a construction company: http://www.contracostatimes.com/walnut-creek/ci_24824557/walnut-creek-school-notes-northgate-holds-ground-breaking

  • Doctor J

    Didn’t anyone Identify the people in the photo with all the shovels ? Looks like Kenridge was still on board when it posted on Dec 18. Nothing posted since then. I guess you will have to drop a dime on them to find out why.

  • Doctor J

    TRANSPARENCY — MDUSD Board why are you dragging your feet on this issue ?? Pleasanton USD has set the gold standard — publicly sharing Form 700′s and Public Records Requests and responses. check out their public disclosure now at http://www.pleasantonusd.net Follow the links. What is the delay about Board ?? Brian Lawrence, Cheryl Hansen, Barbara Oaks, and Lynne Dennler all campaigned on the “transparency platform” . It’s time to make YOUR actions fit YOUR promises.

  • tmharrington

    Here’s the LLB with Kenridge: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/be5b3b32-acd2-4383-ae39-6af728ece300.pdf

    I have left messages for Tim Cody and Kenridge asking what happened to the original LLB.