Click photo to enlarge
Jen Schwartz, a parent of a special-needs child and a teacher at Pioneer Elementary School, voices her concerns to board members at a Brentwood Union School District school board meeting held in Brentwood on Jan. 23, 2013.

ANTIOCH -- A school district advisory committee on special education will host a meeting Thursday to discuss the responsibility of districts to report suspicions of child abuse.

The forum comes in the wake of lawsuits centered on accusations of abuse of special-needs children in two East Contra Costa school districts and delays by school districts in alerting authorities as mandated by law. Thursday's forum at 7 p.m. at Antioch's Black Diamond Middle School is aimed at letting parents know "what teachers are being taught to get to reasonable suspicion (of child abuse), and what can happen if they don't report it," said Carol Carrillo, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County.

"There are still a lot of parents out there that have questions," she said.

School employees who suspect or know about abuse are required to report it to police or Child Protective Services. Districts also are supposed to provide training for employees so they can recognize signs of abuse and know their responsibilities for reporting it to law enforcement authorities.

Alicia Coleman-Clark, the lone member of Antioch Unified's community advisory committee on special education, said training is the key.

"The two main things are that teachers and staff need to have the proper training and support," she said.

Several cases of mandated reporting lapses have come to light throughout the Bay Area in recent months -- including Brentwood and Antioch.

In January, the Brentwood Union school district reached a $950,000 settlement with the family of a 5-year-old Loma Vista Elementary special-needs student after former special education teacher Dina Holder threw the autistic child onto a classroom floor and kicked him in 2010. Holder was convicted of child abuse.

Three months after that settlement, a federal lawsuit was filed by parents of three autistic students at Antioch's Mno Grant Elementary that accused teacher Theresa Allen-Caulboy of slapping, pinching and verbally abusing the children.

In both incidents, school officials are accused of failing to report the accusations to police within the allotted time the law requires.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

IF YOU GO
What: Child Abuse Prevention Council Parent Forum hosted by the Antioch Unified Community Advisory Committee of Special Education
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Black Diamond Middle School, 4730 Sterling Hill Drive, Antioch
More information: Call the Antioch Unified district office at 925-799-7500 or Alicia Coleman-Clark at 925-727-9027.