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Theresa Allen-Caulboy (Courtesy of Law Office of Hinton-Alfert)

In Antioch, a principal, special education director, assistant superintendent of human resources and special education coordinator all knew parents were complaining a teacher was mistreating her autistic students.

Yet, it was parents, not school personnel, who finally notified police. Now a lawsuit alleges that Mno Grant Elementary School teacher Theresa Allen-Caulboy slapped, pinched and verbally abused autistic students.

Even though failure to immediately report suspected abuse to authorities constitutes a crime, the evidence continues to mount that educators, including top administrators, don't get it.

That's why Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan's bill requiring each school district to develop a policy for reporting suspected abuse, and review it with employees annually, doesn't go far enough.

Such a mandate relies on administrators. But they cannot be trusted to train employees when they don't understand the law themselves, or don't take it seriously.

Currently, state law encourages, but does not require, districts to develop training policies. Yet, in districts that do training, it isn't working. Antioch is one example.

Six weeks before police learned of the charges against Allen-Caulboy, special education Director David Wax bragged that he and special education coordinator Kai Montgomery were able to "de-escalate" a complaining parent who had planned to file a police report.

Writing to school Principal Michael Green, Wax said he and Montgomery assured the parent that "the site is conducting an investigation and that this process is confidential with due process rights being afforded to the teacher."

Wrong!

Police should have been immediately notified. Yet, workers from teacher assistants to superintendents seem more concerned with protecting procedural rights of teachers than safety of students.

We've seen that in Moraga cases involving teacher sexual abuse of students; in Brentwood, where a teacher kicked a 5-year-old child lying on the ground; and in another Antioch case, involving a teacher who duct-taped an 8-year-old student's mouth shut.

There was also the San Jose principal who botched her own investigation of a sexual-abuse incident involving a teacher. She was convicted last year of a misdemeanor for failing to alert authorities.

You would have thought a criminal conviction would have awakened the education world. It hasn't.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson told us Friday that a new "climate of accountability" is needed. We agree. But we strongly disagree with his conclusion that Buchanan's bill, AB1338, will do the trick.

It's time for Torlakson to lead. Some of the worst abuses reported so far come from his home county, Contra Costa.

Rather than rely on each district to develop its own policy for reporting abuse -- a mandate sure to produce disparate messages that may or may not hammer home the legal requirements -- Torlakson should produce an unambiguous training program for all school personnel across the state.

For her part, Buchanan should toughen her bill to require all school personnel take that training on an annual basis.

This isn't complicated. Incremental solutions aren't working. It's time to fix the problem. We're tired of excuses.