Crisis Management: The Case of the Ominous Essay
By Lea Filippi of Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC
Part five of a series on Interacting with the Outside World – School District Style.
A student turns in a writing assignment that describes a household in turmoil including children being subjected to relatively severe discipline for relatively minor mistakes. Although the assignment doesn’t include any familiar names, the physical description of the characters makes them bear a strong resemblance to the family of one of the student’s peers. What, if anything, should the teacher do?
Alaska’s child protection laws provide a mechanism for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Health and Social Services. Alaska Statute 47.17.010(a) requires several types of professionals including teachers, school administrators and coaches to immediately report suspected harm whenever in the course of their work they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered harm as a result of child abuse or neglect. A mandatory reporter cannot fulfill this obligation simply by making a report to their job supervisor or to any other individual working for their employer. AS 47.17.010(g). A stated purpose of this statutory requirement is to make sure that investigations regarding child abuse and neglect are conducted by trained investigators and to avoid subjecting a child to duplicative interviews. AS 47.17.010.
Alaska Statute 47.17.022 requires every school district to develop a training curriculum that provides its employees with (1) laws relating to child abuse and neglect; (2) techniques for recognition and detection of child abuse and neglect; (3) agencies and organizations within the state that offer aid or shelter to victims and the families of victims of child abuse or neglect; (4) procedures for required notification of suspected abuse or neglect; (5) the role of a person required to report child abuse or neglect and the employing agency after the report has been made; and (6) a brief description of the manner in which cases or child abuse or neglect are investigated by the Department of Health and Social Services and law enforcement agencies after a report of suspected abuse or neglect. Each district must provide initial training to each new employee during that employee’s first six months of employment and also provide appropriate in-service training on these topics at least once every five years. Districts must file a current copy of their training materials and curriculum with the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. They can obtain technical assistance regarding this training from the Council or Department of Health and Social Services for the development of their training program.
The teacher who receives the ominous essay will need to determine whether in light of their knowledge of the overall situation they have reasonable cause to suspect any child has suffered harm as a result of abuse or neglect. The teacher can refer back to their initial or in-service training for guidance in making that determination. The teacher may also work with their school administrator in deciding whether the essay creates reasonable cause to suspect a child has suffered harm as a result of abuse or neglect. If there is reasonable cause to suspect a child has suffered harm, the teacher cannot satisfy their mandatory reporting obligations simply by informing their principal or any other colleague or administrator regarding their suspicions. They are required to immediately report the suspected harm to the nearest office of the Department of Health and Social Services.
Read the entire series on Interacting with the Outside World – School District Style:
Part one: Panic is not a Plan – Crisis Communications for School Districts by Clint Campion
Part two: Crisis Management: The Case of the Bickering Parents by Lea Filippi
Part three: Crisis Management: The Case of the Aggressive OCS Investigator by Allen Clendaniel
Part four: Crisis Management: “Shaken – Not Stirred …The Day the Open Meetings Act Collided with a 7.0 Earthquake” by John Sedor
More from Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC:
Five-part series: Union Issues in Schools
Four-part series: Freedom of Expression in Schools
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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.