For nearly two years, this newspaper has documented cases of educators failing to warn law enforcement about suspected child abusers. The ignorance among teachers and administrators of the law mandating such reporting stuns us.
Finally, a lawmaker proposes requiring that all school personnel annually review the law. Kudos to Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, for his simple, yet cost-effective legislation, Assembly Bill 1432, that embraces part of an idea we suggested nearly a year ago.
Gatto should strengthen the bill to ensure that workers receive meaningful training on how to identify and properly report abuse. Then every legislator and state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson should give it their full support.
State law already requires personnel working with children, from janitors to district superintendents, promptly report suspected abuse directly to police or child protective services. It's not optional, it's mandatory -- and failure to do so is a misdemeanor.
But, too often, that doesn't happen. As we've seen repeatedly, teachers mistakenly think they need only notify their supervisors. And administrators wrongly consider it their job to investigate rather than immediately turn cases over to law enforcement.
In Brentwood, at least 11 workers failed to properly report a teacher who pulled a 5-year-old student from his chair and kicked him as he lay on the ground. The teacher eventually pleaded guilty to child abuse and the district has paid out nearly $9 million to the students and their parents to settle litigation.
An Antioch teacher faces criminal charges and the district has agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit alleging she slapped, pinched and verbally abused kindergarten special-education students. Not only did administrators fail to report the abuse, the district's director of special education tried to dissuade a parent from doing so.
A Mt. Diablo school district instructor faces 125 felony counts of lewd acts with children, abuse reported as far back as 2005. For years, the district kept him in the classroom and never notified police, even though its own investigator had found that potential child abuse had occurred.
These are just some of the cases in the East Bay alone that support the need for Gatto's legislation -- and more. The bill requires that the state Department of Education adopt a policy on the reporting law, and that each school worker review it online annually.
The bill must go further by requiring teachers and other school officials annually pass an online course on how to identify and properly report abuse. It's a reasonable requirement and small cost to ensure we don't continue exposing our children to suspected abusers.