Crisis in Education: False Allegations of Child Abuse
Crisis in education. Those are words that are heard frequently, and education is facing
a crisis. It is a crisis that is not
discussed. A crisis about which very little has been written. A crisis that many
hope will go away if ignored. It is a crisis that is very real. The crisis is
false allegations of child abuse against teachers and other school employees.
Those involved in working with children in the educational
setting have genuine concerns relating to child abuse. They must deal with the
total child. When the child arrives at school he frequently brings additional
baggage with him that affects all school employees. Examples of such baggage are
neglect, mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and abuse by the child
protective system. Therefore the laws designed to protect the child and provide
him with the safest possible environment of necessity directly impact the
Unfortunately, educators have been caught up in the system. Laws have mandated them to be reporters.
Teachers, along with other mandated
reporters, have been threatened and intimidated with prosecution for failure to
report. Confusion abounds especially about the definition of abuse. If educators
are to continue, by law, to be mandated reporters, then they must be provided
with a more precise definition of child abuse.
School employees realize how vulnerable they are to being
victims of false allegations by an unhappy student or parent. Even when the
report of suspected abuse is labeled as unfounded they find their names have
been entered into state registries. Teachers face hearings conducted by the
state licensing boards and local school board. Those hearings are in addition to
the child protective service, criminal, and possible civil hearings that occur
when there has been an accusation of child abuse. As a result, many teachers
have chosen to remove the nurturing touch in the classroom.
Too many times the statement has been made, "If we must
err, let us err on the side of the child." The present system is not erring
on the side of the child. What happens to the lives of those individuals who have suffered as a
result of these errors? Those teachers who have left the profession even after
being cleared of all charges? The other teachers who have withdrawn from their
students so that they will not suffer a similar fate? The guidance counselor or
school nurse who is hesitant to see a child alone for fear of being falsely
accused? The assistant superintendent of schools who committed suicide two days
after a student recanted her story, but no one told him? The bus driver who
spent three months in jail, suffered every imaginable indignity and a massive
heart attack, later to be cleared? The school custodian who had charges dropped
the day before trial by five girls who admitted they lied because he had
reported them for vandalizing the rest room?
Those responsible for enacting laws need to look at the laws
they have enacted, many of which were done hastily without proper research.
need to involve the people who work directly with children in restructuring the
laws. If this is done, there could be an outstanding system that works for what
is best for the child — a system that provides safety, a system that that provides
stability and emotional support, and a system that will benefit the child, the
family, the educational system, and the nation.
A clear definition of child neglect and abuse. A clear
definition will decrease confusion for mandated
reporters, caseworkers, and parents. The present definitions are much too vague.
|| An end to anonymous reporting. Malicious use of anonymous
reporting is growing. Those in the educational community see this as an ever
growing threat to their professional careers. The reporter is protected from
liability if the report is made in good faith.
|| Screening of reports. Through proper training, 50% of more of
could be screened out.
|| Thorough investigations. Complete and thorough
investigations should be done and those doing the investigating need to be
properly trained and the agencies responsible for investigation of child abuse
should be held accountable.
|| Due process. Everyone accused of child abuse should be
entitled to due process. This is being denied to many individuals by the present
||A purified child abuse registry. Unfounded and Indicated
charges should not appear in a registry.