PA 11-93—sHB 5431

Human Services Committee

Education Committee

Appropriations Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING THE RESPONSE OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND THE DEPARTMENTS OF EDUCATION AND CHILDREN AND FAMILIES TO REPORTS OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT AND THE IDENTIFICATION OF FOSTER CHILDREN IN A SCHOOL DISTRICT

SUMMARY: This act expands the law governing the reporting and investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect, with particular focus on school employees who are the alleged perpetrators and the local or regional school district's response.

The act expands the state's “mandated reporter” law, which generally requires specified professionals to report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or local law enforcement when they suspect that children have been abused or neglected.

It requires:

1. DCF, in consultation with the State Department of Education (SDE), to craft a model mandated reporter policy for school boards to use to train school personnel;

2. the DCF commissioner to (a) offer a refresher reporter training program; (b) within available funding, provide training to all new school employees; and (c) develop a policy for investigating the school's mandated reporters who either fail to report or report late; and

3. school boards to take certain steps to ensure that school districts offer reporter training.

The act also establishes additional steps to be followed when the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect is a school employee, including notification of certain school personnel and SDE. It adds to the responsibilities school boards have when assisting DCF with investigations as well as performing their own, and requires DCF to do random quality assurance reviews of reports involving school employees.

The act makes several changes in the use of, and reporting to, the child abuse registry that DCF must maintain. It:

1. requires school boards to require applicants for any position in the public schools to submit to a registry check;

2. requires DCF to develop a plan to implement this requirement and submit it to the legislative committees of cognizance;

3. requires teachers, when first applying or renewing their state teaching certification, to submit to registry checks; and

4. allows disclosure of certain information in the registry.

The act also eliminates criminal attempt as a crime, the conviction of which requires the State Board of Education (SBE) to deny or revoke a teaching certificate or other educator credential.

The act requires DCF, when asked by school boards that have foster children from other towns attending school under the boards' jurisdiction, to provide the foster child's name, birth date, and school of origin.

Finally, the act makes technical changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2011, except the provisions concerning the criminal attempt language and the DCF plan for implementing the requirement that school position applicants submit to the child abuse registry are effective upon passage, and the provision requiring DCF to provide school boards information about foster children is effective October 1, 2011.

MANDATED REPORTERS—SCHOOL EMPLOYEES AND OTHERS

School Employees ( 3(b))

By law, certain individuals must report suspected child abuse or neglect to DCF or a law enforcement agency. Existing law makes many school and school district employees mandated reporters, including coaches, principals, teachers, superintendents, paraprofessionals, psychologists, nurses, and guidance counselors. The act adds (1) substitute teachers; (2) school administrators; (3) coaches employed by schools rather than all coaches, including intramural or interscholastic coaches; and (4) any other person who has a contract with the school and regular contact with students in grades K-12 and provides services to or on behalf of students in the course of his or her duties.

Model Mandated Reporting Policy for School Boards ( 3(e))

By October 1, 2011, the act requires DCF, in consultation with SDE, to develop a model mandated reporter policy for use by school boards. The policy must state applicable state law regarding mandated reporting and any relevant information to help school districts report suspected child abuse and neglect.

The policy, which must be updated and revised as necessary, must include the following information:

1. the people working for the school districts who are mandated reporters;

2. the type of information to be reported;

3. the timeframe for both written and verbal mandated reports;

4. a statement that the school district may conduct its own investigation into abuse or neglect allegations against a school employee, provided that investigation does not impede DCF's investigation; and

5. a statement that retaliation against mandated reporters is prohibited.

Training ( 3(c))

DCF Responsibility. By law, the DCF commissioner must develop an educational training program for accurate and prompt reporting of abuse and neglect, which must be made available to all mandated reporters at various times and locations throughout the state. The act requires her to also develop a refresher training program.

The act also requires the commissioner, within available appropriations, to provide the training program to all new school employees.

School Board Responsibility. The act requires all school employees hired by school boards on or after July 1, 2011 to complete the training program. All employees must complete the refresher program no later than three years after completing the initial training and at least once every three years.

Employees hired before that date must complete the refresher training program by July 1, 2012, and must retake it once every three years.

In-Service Training for School Employees ( 5). The act requires the law's mandatory in-service training program for school districts to include the requirements and obligations of mandated reporters.

Written Policies for Schools ( 4(e))

The act establishes a February 1, 2012 deadline for school boards to adopt written policies on mandated reporting. It requires the policy, which must be in accordance with the act's model reporting policy, to be distributed annually to the school board's employees. Boards must document that employees have received the policy and completed the training and refresher training programs.

Penalties and Referrals to Chief State's Attorney for Failure to Report ( 8)

By law, mandated reporters who fail to report must pay a fine of between $500 and $2,500 and attend an education and training program. The act also applies the penalty and mandatory education and training requirements to reporters who fail to report within the law's prescribed timeframes. The act requires the DCF commissioner to promptly notify the chief state's attorney when there is reason to believe that a mandated reporter has failed to make a required report or makes a late report. By law, the chief state's attorney must notify the SDE commissioner in writing when individuals holding SBE-issued credentials are fined under the mandated reporter law (CGS 10-149a).

DCF Investigations and Database of Nonreporting by Mandated Reporters ( 7)

The act requires the DCF commissioner to develop a policy for investigating delayed reports by mandated reporters. (By law, mandated reporters must make oral reports to DCF or a law enforcement agency as soon as practicable but no later than 12 hours after the reporter has reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect, and must follow up with a written report within 48 hours. ) The policy must include when (1) DCF must report the delay to the appropriate law enforcement agency and (2) DCF must require these reporters to participate in the law's mandated education and training program. The law already requires any mandated reporter who fails to report to DCF to participate in DCF's education and training program.

When the Mandated Reporter is a School District Employee. Under the act, if the DCF commissioner suspects or knows that a mandated reporter employed by a school district has failed to make a required report within the prescribed time period, she must (1) record the delay, (2) develop and maintain a database of these records, and (3) investigate the delay. The investigation must be conducted in accordance with the above policy and include the school board's or superintendent's action in response to the employee's failure to report.

Copies of Report to SDE Commissioner ( 9)

By law, when a mandated reporter submits to DCF a written report of suspected abuse or neglect involving an employee of a public or private school or institution, the reporter must also submit a copy of the report to the person in charge of the school. Under prior law, if the report concerned a school employee who held a state certificate, authorization, or permit, the person in charge of the school had to send a copy of the report to the SDE commissioner or his designee. The act instead requires the DCF commissioner to send SDE the copy.

Previously, if the employee in question worked for a state-licensed facility or institution that provided care for a child, the mandated reporter also had to send a copy of the report to the “executive head of the state licensing agency. ” The act requires the DCF commissioner to send it instead.

Notification When Suspected Perpetrator is Staff Member of School, Institution, or Child Care Facility ( 11)

By law, when a mandated reporter has reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a child has been abused or neglected by a staff member of a public or private school or institution, or facility that provides child care, he or she must follow the law's reporting requirements. In these instances, the DCF commissioner or her designee must notify the person in charge of the school, institution, or facility or that person's designee, unless that person is the alleged perpetrator.

The act specifies that the person in charge includes the school, institution, or facility's principal, headmaster, or executive director. When the suspected perpetrator works for a public school, the act requires the commissioner to also notify the school superintendent.

Content of Reports ( 15)

The act requires oral and written reports of all mandated reporters to contain, if known, the reasons the reporter believes the person or persons are suspected of causing the child's injuries, maltreatment, or neglect and any information concerning any prior cases in which the alleged perpetrator has been suspected of causing the child harm. The law already requires the reports to include, among other things, the child's and his or her caretaker's name and address, the child's age, and the nature and extent of the child's injuries.

Reports from Nonmandated Reporters to SDE ( 10)

Under the act, if the DCF commissioner receives a report of suspected abuse or neglect from someone who is not designated as a mandated reporter, the commissioner must send a copy to the SDE commissioner. This applies when the reporter has reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a minor (1) has been abused or neglected; (2) has been nonaccidentally physically injured or has been injured in a way that varies with the history given; or (3) is placed at imminent risk of serious harm by certain school employees holding a SBE-issued certification, license, or permit (e. g. , teachers, administrators) and coaches. This information sharing mirrors that in the mandated reporter law.

Providing Information to DCF ( 17)

The act requires anyone reporting abuse or neglect, including nonmandated reporters, to provide an authorized investigator all information that the reporter possesses related to the investigation, except information that state or federal law expressly prohibits.

WHEN SUSPECTED ABUSE OR NEGLECT IS PERPETRATED BY A SCHOOL EMPLOYEE

Public Schools ( 4)

By law, after the DCF commissioner makes a finding of abuse or neglect, she has up to five working days to notify the school superintendent and provide records concerning the investigation if she (1) has reasonable cause to believe that a school employee holding a state teaching certificate, permit, or authorization is the perpetrator and (2) has recommended that the employee's name be placed on the child abuse and neglect registry (see below).

Under the act, the school employee must be entrusted with the care of a child. Also, DCF must either (1) substantiate abuse or neglect by the employee or (2) recommend placing the employee's name on the registry, instead of both, for DCF to be required to notify the superintendent. The act requires the notification and records of the investigation to also go to the SDE commissioner.

By law, when these events occur, the superintendent must suspend the employee until the school board acts in accordance with the teacher tenure law. If a certified school employee's contract is terminated, the superintendent must notify the SDE commissioner within 72 hours of the termination. The act also requires notification when the employee resigns under these circumstances. By law, such notice can trigger SDE's certification revocation proceedings.

Private Schools and Private and Public Institutions ( 4(b))

Under prior law, after the DCF commissioner completed an investigation substantiating a report that a child had been abused (but not neglected) by a staff member of a public or private institution or facility providing care for children or a private school, she had to notify and provide investigation records to the school or institution's executive director. The school or institution could suspend the staff person when this occurred.

Instead, under the act, within five days after completing her investigation, if the commissioner (1) substantiates a report that the child has been abused or neglected and (2) recommends that the staff member be placed on the registry, the school or institution must suspend the staff person with pay. The act eliminates the requirement that the DCF commissioner notify and provide records to the facility's executive director.

Under prior law, when the staff person was suspended, he or she remained so until the incident of abuse was satisfactorily resolved by the staff person's employer. The act also provides that the suspension can be lifted if the staff person successfully appeals and the appeal results in a finding that the staff person was not responsible for the abuse or neglect or does not pose a risk to the health, safety, or well-being of children.

Under existing law, if the staff person against whom an adverse finding has been issued has a state-issued license, certification, authorization, or permit, the commissioner has to immediately notify the issuing agency and furnish investigation records. Under the act, the commissioner must also notify the issuing agency and provide records if the school or institution has a state-issued license or approval.

Records of Abuse and Neglect Incidents ( 6 (a) and (f))

The act requires all school boards to maintain in a central location all records of allegations, investigations, and reports that a child has been abused or neglected by an employee of the school district. These records must include any reports made to DCF. The act grants SDE access to these records.

DCF Access to Teacher Records ( 12)

The act requires school boards to provide the DCF commissioner, upon her request and for the purpose of investigating suspected child abuse or neglect by a teacher the board employs, any records the board maintains or keeps on file, regardless of another law (CGS 10-151c) that provides that records kept by school boards generally are not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. These must minimally include (1) supervisory records; (2) competence, personal character, and efficiency reports kept in the teacher's personnel file with reference to evaluation of performance as a professional employee of the board; and (3) misconduct records. (Records involving teacher personal misconduct are public and can be disclosed without the teacher's consent. ) Under the act, a teacher includes each certified professional employee below the rank of superintendent that the school board employs in a position requiring an SBE certificate.

School Boards to Give Priority to DCF Investigations and Perform Their Own Investigations ( 13)

The act requires school boards to permit and give priority to any child abuse or neglect investigation that DCF or local law enforcement is conducting. The board must conduct its own investigation and take disciplinary action in accordance with the law (e. g. , suspension) when it receives notice from the DCF commissioner or the law enforcement agency that the board's investigation will not interfere with either of the other entity's investigations.

Quality Assurance Reviews and Information Sharing with SDE ( 14)

The act requires DCF, at least annually, to conduct random quality assurance reviews of reports and investigations of abuse and neglect involving school employees. If, as a result of the review, DCF discovers any “issues” in the report or investigation, it must take any necessary action to correct or satisfy “such problem or issue. ” (The act does not specify what would constitute an issue or problem. ) DCF must use these reviews to assess the investigations' conduct and quality. (It is not clear whether DCF reviews only its own investigations or also those done by school boards. )

The act also requires DCF, at least annually, to review with SDE all records and information relating to school investigations to ensure that both are being shared properly. The departments must address and correct any omissions or other problems in their records and information-sharing process.

DCF Report to State Agencies Licensing and Approving Employees ( 16)

The act requires DCF, when it receives reports of suspected abuse or neglect and the alleged perpetrator is a school employee or is employed by an institution or facility licensed or approved by the state to provide care to children (this would include child care providers licensed by the Department of Public Health), to notify SDE, the state agency that issued the license or approval, or the institution or facility of (1) the report and (2) the beginning of DCF's investigation of it.

CHECKS OF CHILD ABUSE REGISTRY

By law, the DCF commissioner must maintain a registry of individuals who have abused or neglected children or youth. The information in the registry is confidential, subject to the law's provisions regarding access. DCF must (1) notify the person when it intends to place his or her name on the registry and (2) alert the person to his or her ability to appeal the placement.

Applicants for Any School Job ( 1(a) & 20)

Starting July 1, 2011, the act mandates that school boards require applicants for positions requiring a state certificate, authorization, or permit to submit to a registry check. Beginning July 1, 2012, boards must require applicants for positions not requiring state certification to submit to checks before the boards can hire them.

The law already requires boards to (1) require applicants to state whether they have ever been convicted of a crime or whether criminal charges are pending against them and (2) require them to submit to state and national criminal record checks. Checks are not required of district students who work for the district, nor are they required of individuals required to submit to a criminal history records check.

The act requires DCF, by January 1, 2012, to develop a plan to implement this requirement and submit it to the Education and Human Services committees. (The plan must be developed after the July 1, 2011 start of checks for job applicants requiring state credentials. )

Teachers ( 1(g))

The act also requires the SBE to require each applicant for a new or renewed teaching certification, authorization, or permit, to submit to a check of the abuse and neglect registry. If the board receives notice that the applicant is listed as an abuse or neglect perpetrator, it must deny the application or may revoke the certification, authorization, or permit of a teacher it has already approved.

Revocations must be done in accordance with the law governing the board's authority to revoke teaching certification, authorizations, or permits. This law requires the board to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the revocation should occur.

Disclosure of Records ( 2)

In general, DCF records are confidential and can be disclosed only with the consent of the persons named in them. But the law requires the commissioner to disclose records without the person's consent in certain circumstances. Previously, it required her to provide copies of records to school boards, provided they were limited to educational records created or obtained by DCF's Unified School District #2. The act also allows these records to include those in the registry that pertain to nondisclosure of findings of responsibility for abuse and neglect.

The act also requires the commissioner, when requested, to promptly provide records without consent to the superintendent of schools for any school district for the purpose of determining the suitability of someone to be employed by the district. This could include registry records and any other DCF records pertaining to child protection activities.

TEACHING CERTIFICATE DENIALS AND REVOCATIONS FOR CERTAIN CRIMES ( 18-19)

The act eliminates “criminal attempt” (CGS 543a-49) from the list of crimes the conviction of which requires the SBE to deny or revoke a teaching certificate or other educator credential. In practice, a person charged with this crime is often convicted of another crime, although not one that necessarily results in a credential denial or revocation.

BACKGROUND

Related Act

PA 11-93 revises information DCF must report to the Department of Public Health (DPH) about child abuse or neglect occurring in a DPH-licensed child care facility or camp and makes related changes.

OLR Tracking: RC: SP: PF: ro