Assemblyman Mike Gatto amended AB 1432 today to strengthen training requirements and prevent child abuse in schools. The amendments would require all school employees to be trained according to standards developed by the Department of Education, in the proper identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect, so that abuse can be stopped in its tracks. Gatto has been working closely with child advocates and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on the legislation, after recent reports showed that several cases of abuse were prolonged because many school personnel were unaware of the processes and/or their responsibilities for reporting abuse.
Enacted in 1963, the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) requires certain professionals, known as mandated reporters, to report to law enforcement or protective services known or suspected instances of neglect, or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Mandated reporters include educational professionals like teachers, instructional aides, teachers’ aides, school administrators, and counselors. Despite CANRA’s requirements, current law does not require school districts to train personnel on detecting and reporting child abuse.
Gatto’s legislation would specifically address this problem by requiring school employees to complete mandated-reporting training, either online or in-person, within the first six weeks of each year or the first six weeks after being hired. Unlike other proposals that allow for thousands of different training programs (a different one in each district), the standards in the Gatto bill would be uniform — developed by the Department of Education — and would also remind employees that failure to report known or suspected abuse is a crime.
“By training school personnel to recognize the signs of abuse, it is my hope we will help stop it,” said Gatto. “And by training school personnel on their reporting duties, we give them the tools to make the proper authorities aware of potential abuse in a timely manner.”
The last few years have produced several incidents of unreported child abuse, where one or more school employees were aware of an incident but failed to report it to law enforcement. In the Redwood City School District, five staff members knew of abuse, but failed to tell authorities, about a teacher’s abuse of two five-year-old special-needs students. In the Brentwood Union School District, eleven employees did not alert authorities of a case in which a special-education teacher, who had already been convicted of child abuse, pulled an autistic student from his chair and kicked him. The incident resulted in a $950,000 settlement paid by the district. Eight additional students’ families then came forward with similar claims against the same teacher, and in late January, the district settled that lawsuit for an additional eight million dollars.
“Our current system fails if it prolongs a child’s pain,” Gatto stated. “AB 1432 is a simple, straight-forward means of making sure school personnel know the techniques and their responsibilities for protecting our children from predators.”