MORAGA -- After struggling for months to craft stronger guidelines on child abuse prevention and reporting in the wake of a sex abuse scandal, Moraga School District trustees are set to approve in November a revamped policy they believe will reduce the chances of "mandated reporting" failures such as those that occurred in the 1990s.
Now, trustees say, a portion of state law needs to be fixed.
Board president Dexter Louie told trustees Tuesday he believes a section of the California Penal Code is flawed and should be corrected. That section is part of the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Law, upon which much of the school's abuse policy is based.
Louie believes a portion of the law defining reporting responsibilities among a team of mandated reporters conflicts with another portion of the law that says reporting duties of mandated reporters -- those legally required to report suspected abuse -- rest with the individual and cannot be delegated to another person.
In September, Louie told the board that a section of the law that says a team may choose one of its members to file a report of abuse to authorities creates a loophole. He asked how school staff would know whether a designated reporter actually filed the report, and alluded to past mandated reporting failures.
The district is being sued by former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School student Kristen Cunnane, who alleges that reporting failures created an environment that led to her repeated sexual abuse by former Joaquin Moraga teacher Julie Correa in the 1990s.
On Tuesday, Louie characterized the perceived delegation of duties in the law as a "weakness in the penal code" and said it needs to be fixed at the state level. In the meantime, the board -- minus trustee Dennis Kelleher, who was on vacation -- voted to use a new form drafted by the school's student safety committee that requires all members of a reporting team to submit a written report to the superintendent in addition to their legal mandated reporter duties. Those reporters can remain anonymous, and sole reporters are not being required to submit that internal school report.
But William Grimm, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland has a different perspective. He said the school district may be looking at an older version of the statute, and that updated versions clearly state that reporting duties are individual. The district has been using language in their regulations taken from a sample California School Board Association policy on child abuse prevention and reporting dating from November 2010 stating that reporting duties of mandated reporters are individual and can't be delegated.
The district's legal counsel had suggested deleting that language because that statement is not in the penal code, said Superintendent Bruce Burns on Thursday. But the board decided to leave the language in the policy after a parent urged them not to strike it, stressing that the statement clarifies that reporting duties are individual.
Police Chief Bob Priebe also urged the board to consider adopting a policy that requires every person who has knowledge of abuse to file a report. "If you put it in the hands of one person in the case where you have multiple people with knowledge, you run the risk of witnesses not being identified in the report or each of them having a different bit of knowledge that can get lost," he said.
The school district's attorney did not return a phone call for comment.
Grimm is also suggesting that the school district may be misreading the section of the penal code on team reporting and trying to apply it to a school environment.
The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Law was written in 1963 and originally mandated only physicians to report physical abuse, according to data from the Greater Bay Area Child Abuse Prevention Council Coalition. It has been updated numerous times and names day care facility employees, social workers, peace officers and teachers among many others as mandated reporters.
Grimm opined that the district does not have to apply the team concept to their situation. "You write a policy that everybody reports," he said. "They're making it more difficult than it needs to be."
The district has also included new language from the state going into effect next year that adds athletic coaches, athletic administrators and athletic directors to the list of mandated reporters. The board is scheduled to formally approve the policy in November.