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Districts Weigh In On Child Abuse Policies

February 17, 2019
Districts Weigh In On Child Abuse Policies

After the state auditor general called out school districts for out-of-date child abuse policies, local superintendents weighed in. The leaders say they followed procedures to report all cases of abuse despite no help from the auditor general’s office and only just finding out about his concerns last week. After the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State in 2014, the state took steps to make sure that reports of suspected child abuse could not be swept “under the rug” locally, according to the office of Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Requirements for child abuse reporting are contained in the Public School Code. School personnel receive training that directs them to first call ChildLine, part of the statewide child protective services program, to report any concern of abuse or neglect, then directs them to inform a designated school official, the release states. In many of the outdated policies, district employees must first report all possible cases of child abuse to a designated district employee. Lackawanna County school districts named in the office’s press release with outdated policies include Abington Heights, Carbondale Area, Lakeland, North Pocono, Old Forge and Riverside. The auditor general’s office began looking at school districts’ policies from across the state in November. Then, Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon, Ph.D., sent the auditor’s office the district’s policy and asked “if any action was needed on our part.” “There was no response to my email,” he said. Mahon again reached out to the office Thursday after the release was issued and asked for “sample language” that should be included in the policy. “I got an email this morning that said ‘we don’t do that,’ ” Mahon said Friday. He’s since reached out to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association for a template. “We will make sure an updated policy is on the board agenda at our next meeting,” Mahon said. The board meets Wednesday. The district’s policy was last updated in 2015. North Pocono’s child abuse reporting policy dates back to 1996. Officials will update the policy during the school board’s March 7 meeting, said Superintendent Bryan McGraw. District employees are all trained in requirements outlined in the school code and have been following those procedures, he said. Lakeland and Carbondale Area are both working with PSBA to revamp all policies — a task that could take up to 18 months to complete, said Carbondale Area Superintendent Robert Mehalick. Both districts are now expediting changes to their child abuse policies. Carbondale Area’s policy is from 2006. Lakeland Superintendent William King was contacted by the auditor general’s office Wednesday — a day before the press release was sent out — to inform him the district’s child abuse policy had not been updated since 2012. “I informed them that we are aware of that and we engaged the services of PSBA to update all of our policies,” King said. PSBA sent King a draft policy Thursday that meets the requirements. It will be voted on by the school board Wednesday. The Old Forge School District will discuss updating policies during a meeting Feb. 28. The child abuse policy, which was last updated in 2007, will then be on the March 20 school board agenda, said Superintendent John Rushefski. The district is also using the PSBA template to revise the policy. “Our practices are current, it’s the policy that needs to be updated,” Rushefski said. In one of his first acts in the role, Riverside Superintendent Paul Brennan revised the district’s child abuse policy in 2013. The policy was again revised in November, he said. “We’re on top of that more than anything. … As a district, we have been working extremely hard to make sure that all employees are certified under” Public School Code requirements, he said. “If there’s something wrong with our policy, we’ll take a look at it, no matter what policy it is.” The auditor general’s press release at first listed Valley View as a school district that needed to update its child abuse policy. The Times-Tribune compared the district’s policies to other districts, including Mid Valley and Scranton, who are in compliance, and found no difference. The auditor general’s office recognized the mistake and corrected the release. Contact the writer: kbolus@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5114; @kbolusTT on Twitter