As educators, PSEA members have mandatory reporting requirements involving suspected cases of physical and sexual abuse of students. PSEA attorney Lynda Meinke said the requirements fall under three areas: child abuse under the Child Protective Services Law, sexual misconduct of other educators under the Educator Discipline Act, and reporting responsibilities established under local school district policies.
“It is important for PSEA members to be aware of the requirements and also be aware that there are consequences for failing to comply,’’ said Meinke. “They apply to anyone who has direct contact with students or is a certified educator.’’ Meinke outlined each of the three areas and also spoke of the state’s Safe2Say program:
Child abuse reporting
The Child Protective Services Law is broad. It was widened in 2014 in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. When they have “reasonable cause’’ to suspect child abuse, all school employees, except for a small minority who don’t have direct contact with students, are required to report to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 or online at https://www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis
ChildLine operators take calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Even if school employees don’t have direct evidence or direct knowledge that a child has been abused, or if the suspicions are based on rumors, as mandatory reporters they are required to report it.
“It’s not the school employee’s job to investigate possible child abuse,’’ Meinke
said. “Our advice to our members, because the consequences for not reporting can be quite serious both for the child and for the educator, is if you have any doubt, you should resolve that doubt in favor of reporting. Let the people at the Department of Human Services determine if an investigation is warranted.’’
PSEA advises members to file an online report because it provides a written record that the mandatory report was made or to retain a copy of notes regarding any call to ChildLine. Members who call ChildLine are required to file a written report to the county children and youth agency, and members must also inform their school administration that a child abuse report was filed, regardless of whether a call or online report was placed.
The consequences for mandatory reporters failing to comply with the Child Protective Services Law range from a criminal misdemeanor to a felony. There also could be civil liability. For more information about the law, visit http://keepkidssafe.pa.gov/ resources/reportabuse
Educator Discipline Act
The act requires ALL CERTIFIED EDUCATORS to report any known action or inaction of another certified educator that constitutes sexual abuse, exploitation, or misconduct to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, their chief school administrator, and their immediate supervisor. “We all have a pretty good idea of what sexual abuse or exploitation is, but sexual misconduct under this law is defined very broadly,’’ Meinke said. “It in
cludes behaviors that may not involve physical contact – for example, soliciting a student for a date or engaging in inappropriate conversations.” Educators who fail to report may be subject to professional discipline, including revocation or suspension of the employee’s certification.
Some school districts have local district policies that require employees to report certain conduct of others, and school employees should make sure they are familiar with them. Some districts might also expect employees to report any time the health and safety of the student is in jeopardy, even if it’s not a case of child or sexual abuse. PSEA members can contact their UniServ with any questions about reporting under state law or local policy.
The state’s relatively new Safe2Say program for reporting suspected threats to overall school safety, individual safety or possible abuse does not have any mandatory reporting requirements. Although the Safe2Say program was designed to encourage students to anonymously report such threats, any person may report through the program. PSEA members who are mandatory reporters are reminded that making a report through Safe2Say IS NOT a substitute for making a required report under the Child Protective Services Law or the Educator Discipline Act. Even if a report is made under Safe2Say, the employee must comply with the requirements under those laws.