Friday, November 11, 2011

Some thoughts on the Penn State thing: educators and administrators reporting abuse (or not)

I used to get my news via Twitter, but even that got too depressing. I've been taking a hiatus, enjoying that whole Mom thing, focusing my energies on that.

I still hear about crap that happens in the news. Like this whole Penn State thing.

When I taught (K-12, in Texas), every year we had to sit through at least one in-service meeting about reporting child abuse. If you see something, if you hear something, if you think there's abuse going on, you  have to report it. It's the law to report it. if you don't, you can be sued, go to jail, etc.

This, really, should all be a given.

But, as I hear more about the Penn State thing (a graduate assistant saw it, he reported it to his supervisor, nobody did anything), I remembered the addendum to the in-service that we were told at the elementary school where I worked.

The training said we HAD to report the abuse. They gave us the number to call. The administration, and the counselor, were there to help us, if we wanted someone to be there when we made the call to Child Protective Services (in case we were nervous about the questions they would ask, or intimidated, or whatever).

But, somehow, "the administration is there to help you make the report" somehow turned into "if you think there is something to report, you  have to go to the administration first, and they'll make the call for you." We were not allowed to call CPS directly -- we HAD to go to the administration, and/or the counselor, and they would make the call for us, I guess with us in the room. But the call had to be made by the person in authority, the school principal. Not the lowly teacher.

I was concerned about a student once, and I went to the principal. I can't remember the details, because this was years ago, but the gist is I was told not to call. The administration was familiar with the situation, they knew the family, and they were sure nothing "bad" was going on. They would "keep an eye on it," though, and if there was anything to be concerned about, they would call CPS.

Now, I went to them because I was concerned about some things the parent had said (one comment that still stands clear in my mind: "If child abuse were legal, I'm telling you, I would abuse her!", said because the girl was so "difficult" and headstrong... well, if you're saying crap like that, you're probably abusing her already, love...) and some things the girl said in class. I had no "evidence," and what I had could easily be dismissed as "parenting choice." I went to the counselor about it because she knew the family (the girl and her brothers, and the older half-sister who was now in junior high), and had known them for years. This was my first year at the school, and my first year working in elementary (which is quite different from high school).

And, yeah, calling CPS was a little intimidating. Especially when all you have to say is, "The mom is a b!tch and I don't like her. And the daughter dresses too sexy for her age, which I don't like either."

So I went to my supervisors. And they told me to not worry my pretty little head about it, just look the other way and go on about my business.

What happened at Penn State is not new. Nor is it unusual (erm, hello, Catholic Church, anyone?) It happened to be really big, and involving prominent players (fancy, well-known coach; popular football team). But, now that I think about it, the very same thing could have happened at the cozy little elementary school where I worked. Maybe it has happened, but since none of the people who work there are famous (and the parents and the district have enough money to cover it up, probably, or keep it relatively quiet), no one has found out about it.

What if a substitute teacher, or a teaching aide, or a first-year teacher actually witnessed abuse? The elementary school has students from kinder to sixth grade. What if a sixth-grader were molesting a kindergartner? The sub, or aide, or teacher would go to the administration, as she had been told. Plus, that's a pretty traumatic thing to witness, I would want to have someone "in control," someone to help me cope. Someone to hold my hand.

And then the principal does what he did to me. "Thanks for telling us. We'll take care of it."

Because they don't want to upset the parents (that was a pretty strong theme at that school). They don't want to risk a lawsuit, accusing someone of something that probably didn't happen. They don't want the negative publicity the school would get, if this got on the news. The sub/aide/teacher probably misinterpreted the situation, anyway...

So they don't call. Maybe they tell the sub/aide/teacher that they did call, maybe they tell her it's been "handled;" maybe they tell her to forget about it, or, if she asks again, even threaten her, telling her she needs to move on, forget about what she thinks she saw.

What's the policy where you work?

What's the policy where your children go to school?

What's the written, official policy, and what's the "informal" policy the administration tells the teachers?


  1. thanks. Often I see that what's MOST hurtful to children who have been abused is that adults who knew did nothing to help them, denied it or acted like nothing was happening. You remind me I need to call for some people who have not been able to do it themselves regarding possible abuse of children they know.

  2. IMO, when in doubt, call CPS. It's their job to determine whether anything is going on. If it's not, no harm, case closed. But if it is, a child can be saved from a terrible situation.

    Also, CPS has the personel and the power to do the investigation. Unlike the school administration. Therefore, I think requiring teachers to go to the administration at all is a flawed methodology.

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