California has the longest list in the nation of people required to report suspected child abuse -- from teachers to dog catchers. But absent from that list are school district administrators, who often are those first consulted by principals trying to discern between unusual, inappropriate and abusive behavior.
Exactly who must report what to authorities will be the subject of a misdemeanor trial set to open Wednesday of a former principal of O.B. Whaley School in San Jose charged with failing to report a teacher now charged with molesting five second-graders.
In a rare prosecution under California's mandated reporter law, prosecutors will allege that Lyn Vijayendran violated the law in October 2011 when she failed to report to law enforcement a parent's concern. If convicted, Vijayendran faces up to six months in jail. Teacher Craig Chandler, the parent reported, had blindfolded her daughter alone in his room and put something in her mouth.
Three months later, after the parent of another student brought a similar complaint and then called police, Chandler was arrested.
In both instances, Vijayendran and Assistant Principal Lea Peery first contacted Carole Schmitt, human resources director for the Evergreen School District, for guidance.
But prosecutors are not charging Schmitt with failure to report. Papers obtained by the Mercury News in response to a Public Records Act request indicate that Schmitt heard via emails and phone calls about the parents' complaints against Chandler.
In January, Peery was filling in as principal while Vijayendran was on maternity leave. When the mother of the second student brought a similar complaint, Peery consulted with Schmitt at least five times. Later that morning the parent reported she had called police, and Peery then filled out a report to Child Protective Services. The mother, who was crying, said that while Chandler was alone with her daughter in the classroom he had blindfolded her, put something in her mouth and moved her head with his hands. The student told Peery she was scared to be in class. Crime lab tests showed Chandler's semen was found on chairs in his classroom.
Even after being told that police had been notified, Schmitt wrote in an email to Peery, "Please remind Mr. Candler (sic) he is not to pursue or make contact with this child or parent. He needs to leave her alone."
A month later, as the Evergreen district interviewed students who had been in Chandler's class, Peery asked Schmitt if she could record them. Schmitt suggested in an email not recording them, because the recordings would be admissible in a lawsuit, while notes might not be. She wrote, "When you write up your notes, the words from the students and teachers do not need to be verbatim, but just specific quotes that help your investigation."
Evergreen School District Superintendent Kathy Gomez declined to comment on the district's policies, citing the pending criminal trials.
California lists 40 job categories as mandated reporters, the most in the nation, according to attorney Bill Grimm of the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland. But he thinks California's exhaustive list of people has effectively excluded some logical mandated reporters by its specificity. For example, the list doesn't list district office administrators, like human resources directors such as Schmitt. Nor does it name principals, although presumably they're covered under "administrative officer or supervisor of child welfare and attendance."
Despite the law's vagueness, the Evergreen district maintains that all its teachers and administrators are mandated reporters.
Before 2000, the law was more general, covering school district employees as "child care custodians."
"I think anybody involved in public education of our children should be a mandated reporter," Grimm said. The list specifies doctors, counselors, film processors and animal control officers.
Another weakness in the law, Grimm said, is that it doesn't require training for mandated reporters. Districts that don't conduct training simply must write a letter explaining why they didn't. Last year, the Evergreen School District did not train its administrators, Gomez has said. But over the summer she said training would be done for the current school year.
Chandler was arrested in January and eventually charged with five felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14, involving five students. ¿He remains in Santa Clara County Jail without bail. Vijayendran was transferred to an administrative position in the district office.
Staff writer Tracey Kaplan contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.