Teachers should instruct our children, not prey upon them. Educators should help purge abusive employees from our schools, not protect them.

That's why state law requires that teachers, administrators and even school janitors immediately report suspected abuse directly to police or child protective service workers, who are trained to investigate such cases.

Instead, as Bay Area News Group reporters have documented over the past 21/2 years, educators too often try to protect their own or shield their institutions from adverse publicity. Sometimes they're ignorant of the law; sometimes, they're defiant.

Unfortunately, current legislative attempts to fix that, to require that they educate themselves about their legal responsibilities lack teeth.

It's not enough to require that teachers merely sign a piece of paper every five years advising them of their legal responsibilities, as a bill, AB 2560, by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would do.

It's not enough to require that school districts devise annual training about the reporting law, but then not require that employees attend the training, as AB 1432, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, would do.

However well-intentioned the bills may be, they're simply not enough. School employees must be required to attend annual training to remind them about their legal responsibility to immediately notify law enforcement.

As we've seen, hoping they'll do the right thing doesn't work:

  • Craig Chandler, a San Jose elementary schoolteacher, blindfolded students and forced them to perform oral sex. When a parent complained to the principal, she notified the abuser and investigated on her own, but never called police. It wasn't until three months after the complaint that another parent reported suspected abuse to an assistant principal and police. Because of the delay, another child was abused and forensic evidence was lost.

  • Theresa Allen-Caulboy, an Antioch teacher of autistic students, slapped, pinched and verbally abused them. School officials knew parents were complaining about the mistreatment. The special education director bragged that he and another administrator were able to "de-escalate" a complaining parent who had planned to file a police report. It was parents, not school personnel, who finally notified police.

  • Darrel Golden, a Tracy second-grade teacher, molested students. In 2006, a yard duty monitor overheard a girl tell a friend that Golden touched her inappropriately. When the principal was informed, she allegedly responded by notifying the girl's mother, who was undocumented, and dissuading her from alerting police by suggesting she could be deported. Six years later, when a janitor saw Golden grab another girl's buttocks, police were notified.

  • Dina Holder threw a 5-year-old, special-needs student to the floor of her Brentwood classroom and repeatedly kicked him. Instructional aides who were present reported the incident to superiors but not police. Administrators tried to conduct an internal investigation and waited a week to notify the boy's mother. It was the parent who finally called the cops.

  • Joseph Martin faces 150 felony molestation charges involving 14 of his Concord school students. When allegations surfaced in 2006, the Mt. Diablo School District hired an outside attorney who investigated and found the complaints "at least suggest the subject matter of potential child abuse." No one notified police until 2013, when a parent reported allegations to the principal. As police were investigating, they were delayed by the district's attorney, who at first requested they obtain a subpoena to see the report from the 2006 investigation.

    The school employees who learned of these abuses were all required to report them to law enforcement. Not to their superiors, but to police or child protective services.

    Current law encourages, but does not require, school districts to train their employees about the reporting requirement. But most don't, or do so poorly and inconsistently.

    It's time to fix that -- to insist that all teachers annually take a standardized state online training program, and prove they have done so to keep their jobs and their credentials.

    We're talking about an hour or two a year. Is that really too much to ask to protect our children?

    Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or dborenstein@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/BorensteinDan.