MORAGA -- A move to enhance school policy and clarify that all "mandated reporters" who suspect or know of child abuse must by law alert authorities is on hold, because of concerns over some of the proposed wording.
Superintendent Bruce Burns told trustees at a board meeting Sept. 12 that language the school hoped to add to existing administrative regulations on child abuse prevention and reporting is not being added to the policy -- at least not yet.
"It's possible that this language would change the penal code," he said.
Existing law says that when two or more mandated reporters know of abuse or neglect, one member of the team may make the report. Any member of the team who knows that the selected reporter has failed to contact authorities "shall thereafter make the report."
However, during a first reading in August of revisions to the administrative regulations, school board President Dexter Louie expressed concerns with a section of the penal code that specifies when two or more mandated reporters know of suspected or actual child abuse, they can choose one person to report the abuse. Louie said there was no way of knowing whether a designated reporter actually filed the report.
The new section crafted by the district, with input from the student safety committee, specifies that "when two or more mandated reporters jointly have knowledge of a known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect, all shall report."
Carol Carrillo, who serves on the student safety committee and is also the executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, agreed that the language goes above and beyond what the law requires. She said the penal code is designed to protect every child and the school district is trying to make sure child abuse gets reported. That can happen through prevention and training, Carrillo said.
"I think if they continue to talk to each other about the issues, it's not going to fall through the cracks," she said.
The district has been working on revamping school policy following an investigation by the Times that uncovered failures by school staff to report suspected sexual abuse of students by a teacher in the 1990s. Former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters failed to report allegations of abuse, and teacher Julie Correa -- now serving jail time for sexually abusing a student there -- and other administrators who knew of the accusations did not follow up nor did they contact police.
A 23-member student safety committee comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and others has been meeting since June and reviewing existing regulations on abuse.
The board will discuss the policy again in October.