Progress, slowly but surely.
We're not there yet, but some state officials finally recognize that school workers don't understand their legal responsibility to report suspected child abuse. As we told you last month, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, had authored legislation requiring all school personnel annually review the law.
Gatto has since taken it a much-needed step further, amending the bill to require all school employees receive training and provide proof they've done so at the start of each school year.
The bill now would also require the state Department of Education to develop the training program, including an online training module.
These are all essential changes, as demonstrated by stories in this newspaper over the past two years. Reporter Matthias Gafni's investigations have documented cases of unreported physical and sexual child abuse by teachers in the Moraga, Brentwood, Antioch and Mt. Diablo school districts.
Under current law, at the first suspicion, school personnel must notify law enforcement. But, in each case, district officials have engaged in cover-ups, attempting to investigate on their own, even though they lack the expertise to do so, while trying to keep the abuse secret.
Failure to report child abuse suspicions in a timely manner is a misdemeanor. Yet we have not seen Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson take action against those who fail to report. Parents and children deserve better. Not only should the perpetrators face punishment, so too should those people who enable the abuse to continue.
At the same time, every step should be taken to ensure school employees receive proper training about their legal mandates. This point was -- once again -- reinforced by kindergarten special education teacher Theresa Allen-Caulboy's guilty plea Feb. 14 to one felony count of child abuse and two misdemeanor charges. This follows the Antioch school district's $8 million settlement with the families of eight of her students.
School officials knew parents were complaining that Allen-Caulboy was mistreating autistic students. Special education Director David Wax even bragged that he and special education coordinator Kai Montgomery 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.
Clearly, school districts have failed miserably to train their personnel. Yet, as much as Gatto has strengthened his bill to require training, it still has no consequences for the teachers and districts that fail to comply.
That must be changed.