MORAGA -- Administrators got their first look this week at a revamped school policy designed to prevent child abuse and facilitate its reporting, but one official expressed concern about a perceived loophole he believes could allow for a failure to report abuse.
Officials met Tuesday to discuss recommendations by a student safety committee formed in June, including updated administrative regulations on child abuse prevention and reporting. That group was launched in the wake of an investigation by the Times into a failure by school staff to report sexual abuse of students by a teacher in the 1990s.
During a first reading of revisions to the school's administrative regulations on child abuse prevention and reporting, board president Dexter Louie focused on a section of policy outlining responsibilities of mandated reporters.
According to a section of the California Penal Code known as the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, which makes up the bulk of the policy, when two or more mandated reporters know of suspected or actual child abuse, they may choose one person to report the abuse to authorities. If one reporter knows that the designated reporter hasn't followed through, the other must then make the report.
However, Louie had problems with language he described as not straightforward. "How do we know if (a designated reporter) actually filed?" he asked, characterizing it as a loose link while alluding to past breakdowns in
The Times has reported that former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters failed to report allegations of abuse to authorities against teacher Dan Witters, who later committed suicide. According to school documents, former teacher Julie Correa -- who is serving eight years in prison for sexual abuse -- reported the abuse to Walters but did not follow up to confirm Walters had made his report. She also did not go to authorities. Other administrators also knew of the accusations but did not follow up, according to the Times, nor did they go to police.
"The law doesn't say to you 'call social services, to sit in on the phone call,' " said Cristina Hickey, communications education coordinator of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County in an interview. Hickey, who is part of the 23-member student safety committee tasked with reviewing current policies and recommending any needed changes, explained that by law, reporting duties of mandated reporters are individual and each must ensure a report is made. "You can't walk away," she said.
Administrators and parents said they are pleased with the committee's progress. Carol Carrillo serves as executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council and is a member of the committee. She said the council has been working with the district and helping them to update their policies and procedures.
"They're taking what the state is requiring and enhancing it. We support that," she said.
Officials will hear a second reading of the regulations in October after a safety committee review and possible addition of new language.
Earlier, they had discussed a set of recommendations that include requiring staffers to review child abuse and mandated reporter guidelines twice a year, protection of anonymity for reporters and educating the community about child abuse prevention.
"We will soon be reaching out to other organizations to make sure kids are safe in all environments," said Superintendent Bruce Burns.