Local Superintendent Discusses Reporting Requirements

(GantDaily Graphic)

CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield Area School District has initiated “information gathering” into its prior interactions with The Second Mile charity that was established by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who has been accused of sexually abusing at least eight troubled youth who participated in his charity’s mentoring programs over a 15-year timeframe.

Former Penn State Athletics Director Timothy Curley and former Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz also face criminal charges for perjury and failure to report the alleged sexual abuse to the proper authorities, according to the grand jury report.

When contacted by phone Friday morning for clarification, Superintendent Dr. Thomas B. Otto was hesitant to term his information gathering process as an “investigation” by the district. He said at this juncture, he was collecting the information himself and didn’t have any reason to believe that he’d find anything alarming.

Meanwhile, the Penn State scandal has also prompted Otto to examine the district’s mandated reporting measures for child abuse or student abuse by employees and to remind members of his staff. In fact, it topped his agenda for Thursday’s staff meeting.

Otto said the district doesn’t have any policy specifically for reporting or handling the “sexual abuse” of students. He said its policy has a much broader spectrum, covering anything from inflicted bumps and bruises to incidences as severe as physical and sexual abuse.

Clearfield’s policy for reporting child abuse or student abuse by school employees was adopted Dec. 19, 1994. This policy was last revised by the district April 22, 1996; however, Otto said he is currently in the process of updating district policies. He added that this policy, specifically, closely aligns with that of many school districts statewide as well as the reporting guidelines in Pennsylvania Code.

The Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) was amended effective the 1995-96 school year. The amendments directly impacted school employees, as it became their duty not only to report suspected child abuse to child protective services, but any school employee who has “reasonable cause” to suspect another school employee is “victimizing a student” must also report “to the district and the local law enforcement agency.”

According to district policy, in general, school employees and or administrators who in the course of their employment come into contact with children “shall report or cause a report” to the county’s Children and Youth Services when they have “reasonable cause” based upon their professional experience, education and training to suspect a child coming before them in their “professional or official capacity” is an abused child. Reports of “child abuse” should be made “immediately by telephone and in writing within 48 hours after the oral report.” School employees are directed to make such oral reports to the state’s Department of Public Welfare Childline and to the district administrator. Their written reports are to be made on the form supplied by DPW to the county CYS.

When reporting cases of “severe bodily injury or sexual exploitation” inflicted by a school employee or school administrator, school employees who are required to report “suspected child abuse” include but are not limited to school administrators, school teachers and school nurses, according to the district policy. When the abuser is a school employee, the school employee who witnesses the act has the duty to immediately contact the administrator.

When the abuser is a school administrator, the school employee who witnesses the act must immediately report to law enforcement officials and the district attorney.

Further, the district administrator who receives a report from a school employee about abuse by another employee or administrator or who has “independent reasonable cause” to suspect abuse should report immediately to law enforcement officials and the appropriate district attorney.

In addition, the school administrator, according to the district policy, has the duty to report any allegations to the superintendent or his/her designate that an employee has allegedly abused or otherwise victimized student(s). The policy reads that the requirement not to divulge the existence of the report or its content shouldn’t be interpreted as limiting the administrator’s responsibilities to use the information (s)he’s received to initiate and conduct an independent school investigation into the allegations.

“Any school employee is to report to a guidance counselor or principal within their school. (The principal) is to investigate and determine how to handle it,” Otto said.

“. . . There are strict procedures. The reason for the chain of command is so our teachers can continue to teach and concentrate on those things.”

Within the chain of command, he said school principals are heavily relied on as the “chiefs” of their building and the point of contact for school employees who want to initiate a report of child abuse.

Because school buildings make up the much larger district, he said the school principals must confer with the district’s superintendent. Oftentimes, he said principals may initiate contact with Childline first and then come to the superintendent later as “a heads up.”

Otto, however, said that a school employee who witnesses an abusive act would not suffer any consequences if they ignored the chain of command and went directly to a law enforcement or child protection agency.

“I couldn’t ever imagine that,” he said.

When asked how parents should handle reports of alleged abuse by school employees from their children, he said they can register complaints through the district or contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

“A parent can do whatever to help protect their child. I don’t think they can make a wrong decision there,” Otto said. “We offer complaint forms to parents, but it doesn’t mean that they have to take that route. We’d never tell a parent not to contact the police.”

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