Every five years when renewing their credentials, California school employees will be required to read and sign a document that lays out the requirements for them to report suspicions of child abuse, if newly crafted state legislation is approved.
In addition, Assembly Bill2560, prompted by this newspaper's continued coverage of abuse reporting failures, would clean up language from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, stressing that teachers must call either police or Child Protective Services when they suspect a child has been abused.
The bill, formally introduced in February by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, is the latest legislation aimed at improving school employee abuse reporting.
"It provides an ongoing refresher for those renewing their credentials," Bonilla said. "It also reinforces they can report to both law enforcement and child protective services."
Currently, teachers and other credentialed employees receive an email from the state credentialing agency confirming that they are "mandated reporters," and required by law to report suspicions to a "Child Protective Agency immediately."
Bonilla, a former high school English teacher who renewed her credential in 2012, said that language is confusing.
Her proposed language would specify that employees can report to either their local police agency or to Child Protective Services. The statement would spell out the responsibilities per the penal code, including that failure to report is a misdemeanor, and require an electronic signature by the applicant.
"It makes me very, very angry to know there are people exploiting children," Bonilla said. "And it's so unfair to the many very dedicated teachers who are then associated with the actions of those who are doing the exploiting."
Bonilla referenced the ongoing Mt. Diablo school district scandal as an impetus for the bill. This newspaper has reported how administrators failed to report to police a 2006 internal report that concluded "potential child abuse" by teacher Joseph Martin. The elementary school teacher was later charged with 150 child molestation counts involving 14 students.
The bill will not require the signature of an applicant seeking his or her first credential, only five-year renewals. The assemblywoman left that out because she said those applicants already must read and sign a similar form when they are hired at a district.
Bonilla also wanted to keep costs at a minimum and avoid duplicating other pending legislation, including AB1432, which requires annual child abuse reporting training for school employees, which Bonilla co-authored.
AB135, authored by Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, would require school district boards, county offices of education and charter school administrators to create a specific policy on child abuse reporting, as well as hold an all-employees meeting within the first six weeks of the school year to review the law.
Bonilla hopes to continue working with state officials to create uniformity among colleges that offer credential programs and provide a standard child abuse reporting lesson plan.
AB2560 will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on April 9 at 1:30 p.m. in Sacramento.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.