Every school worker who knows about possible child abuse must report it directly to authorities. That's the law.
We're not talking about notifying the principal. We're talking about immediately alerting police or child protective services. It's not optional. It's mandatory.
Yet in Moraga, San Jose, Brentwood, Antioch, and allegedly Concord and Redwood City, cases of sexual and physical abuse went unreported.
From janitors and teachers to principals and top administrators, school employees just don't get it. Neither do state lawmakers.
Despite clear documentation of the reporting failure, despite a clear need for a standardized training program for school workers, legislators and state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson have done little.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, introduced a bill that would have required each school district to develop a policy for reporting suspected abuse and to review it with employees annually.
It was weak legislation, especially since it's clear that individual school districts cannot be trusted to carry it out. The law already encourages districts to develop such policies. Of those that have them, some have actually established rules that conflict with state laws. Some have shown themselves to be more concerned with protecting procedural rights of teachers than the safety of students.
Moreover, the Buchanan bill was an inefficient approach to the problem. Every district would have been left to devise its own policy, an approach sure to have perpetuated the current chaos and confusion.
It stalled in the Appropriations Committee chaired by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank -- but for the wrong reason. Gatto tells us he was concerned about the cost because the state would have been on the hook for reimbursing districts about $1.5 million a year to implement the requirements.
That's a pittance when compared to the horrible abuse that went unreported, to say nothing of the litigation when students and their parents later learn of the failure to act.
Legal settlements in just the Moraga district this year cost $4.65 million. One Brentwood case cost $950,000. More lawsuits are pending in those districts as well as in Antioch and Concord.
Gatto insists he's serious about solving this problem in a more cost-effective way. If he is, he immediately will introduce legislation establishing a statewide online training program about employees' reporting responsibilities and requiring that every school worker provide proof of completing it annually.
Meanwhile, as schools chief, Torlakson could set up the training program and model policies for schools. He holds the bully pulpit for education. For the sake of the children, it's time for him to lead. No one else has.