The Moraga school district's recent $14 million settlement with two sex abuse victims shows once again that educators must be trained annually about their legal responsibility to notify law enforcement of suspected incidents.
The cases are part of a string of horrific Bay Area school abuses uncovered in just the past two years. Some others include: a teacher who pulled a 5-year-old student from his chair and kicked him as he lay on the ground; another who slapped, pinched and verbally abused kindergarten special education students; a third who now faces 150 felony charges of lewd acts for abusing fourth- and fifth-grade students; a fourth who blindfolded students and forced them to perform oral sex.
In each case, workers who knew of the abuse failed to report it to police. Too often 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.
Two bills pending in the Legislature would increase awareness of the reporting requirement, but they don't go far enough.
First, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, has authored legislation, AB1432, requiring that school districts annually train their workers about the legal mandate. Unfortunately, the bill has been amended to remove a requirement that workers take the training and contains no consequences if they don't.
Second, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, introduced AB2560, requiring that teachers and other licensed school employees, as a condition of their credential renewals every five years, sign a statement affirming they understand the reporting mandate. Currently, they only have to do so when they first receive their credentials.
The two bills should be combined, or work in tandem, to require that teachers and other school workers undergo yearly training to keep their jobs and maintain their credentials. Doctors and lawyers must undergo regular hours of continuing education to keep working. It's not too much to require that school workers take a refresher course on reporting child abuse, especially when the current system has failed so miserably.
The Moraga settlements, $7 million to each victim, according to their attorney, were the largest ever for such cases. The payouts were so large not only because of the abuse, but also because teachers and administrators failed to notify police after learning of similar past behavior by the same teacher. Had they acted as required, they likely would have prevented abuse of these plaintiffs.
The mindset of school employees must change. Student safety must come first.