Earlier this week, Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger and Mt. Diablo school district teacher Anita Johnson spoke in support of AB 2560, which is related to mandated child abuse reporting, at an Assembly Education Committee hearing.
The bill, proposed by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would require all teachers to read a statement and attest that they understand their responsibilities to report suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services or law enforcement when they apply for and renew their credentials.
“In my district and cities throughout California, there have been cases of unreported student physical and sexual abuse,” Bonilla told the committee, which is headed up by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo. “There’s been a growing trend where mandated reporters have reported suspected child abuse only to school administration and not to law enforcement or Child Protective Services.”
Johnson discussed three instances in which children might have been better protected if teachers had reported their suspicions to police. In one, Johnson said a teacher noticed that her student came to school with bruises the day after calling a parent to discuss missing homework.
When the principal found out, he reprimanded the teacher for calling the parent, saying he knew that would happen, Johnson said. When asked if he would report the incident to Child Protective Services, the principal said that was not the appropriate thing to do because the agency might remove the child from the home and put her in the “system,” which would be far worse than where she was.
In another incident, when a middle school teacher told a student she was going to call his father because he hadn’t turned in an assignment, the boy said, “Don’t tell me Dad. He’ll beat the crap out of me.”
The boy seemed truly frightened, Johnson said. Yet, the principal told the teacher it wouldn’t be right to report this to authorities, because parents have the right to reprimand their children.
“My final example is the situation from my own district, Mt. Diablo Unified, in which many teachers at a particular school reported to their administrator that they felt there were odd things happening in a certain classroom and that the teacher had made some weird comments about young boys,” Johnson said. “The administrator assured these teachers that she would investigate.”
Yet, it wasn’t until the boys themselves accused that teacher of molestation that the teacher was removed from the classroom, Johnson said.
“The bottom line,”Johnson said, “is to make sure teachers know they are responsible for reporting to an outside agency and not their administrator.”
She said teachers want to do the right thing and reminders are always good.
Swanger, who worked in the San Diego police department before coming to Concord about three years ago, expressed strong support for the bill.
“It’s a time-tested formula that some form of in-service training and/or ongoing communication is the key to compliance,” he said. “And I believe that there is no more important law that we should require 100 percent compliance (with) than following the mandatory reporting law.”
He said these laws are violated when a person working in the school system who suspects abuse does not completely understand or know their legal requirements.
“They believe notifying a supervisor, a principal or a peer meets their requirement,” he said. “And worse, that supervisor or peer does not understand their legal requirements.”
Although the mandating reporting law has been on the books for 29 years, Swanger said it’s evident by the large number of cases involving failure to report, particularly in districts where he has served, that the law is not sufficient. He said some teachers have received little or no training regarding the law, while others are told they must report suspected abuse to an administrator.
“The most troubling scenario that some of them have shared with me,” he said, “is that the worst failures occur when the offender works in the system.”
Here is a link to the committee testimony, along with more information about the bills on the agenda that day: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=2019
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