Wichita school board to consider clarifications to policy on reporting child abuse

The Wichita school board on Monday will consider updates to its policy on reporting suspected child abuse and neglect.

The revisions, which come about a year after a Wichita kindergarten teacher lost her job after allegedly failing to report suspected abuse quickly enough, are intended to clarify procedures in language that matches current state law, officials said.

“It adds clarity,” said Loren Pack, coordinator of social work services for the district. “But the procedure itself, that hasn’t changed at all.”

Kansas law requires teachers, doctors, counselors and other mandatory reporters to inform either local law enforcement or the Kansas Protection Reporting Center if they suspect a child has been abused.

The district’s policy, last revised in 2007, currently requires employees to report suspected abuse by phone to state officials “on the same day the suspicion arises.”

The proposed revised policy states: “As soon as suspicion arises, the employee, with only minimal questions to determine the nature of the incident, shall contact KPRC by phone or their web-based system.”

The proposed policy includes the toll-free number and Web address for the Kansas Protection Reporting Center.

It also requires teachers to notify their building principal or designee promptly of their suspicions, but notes that the notification “does not substitute for the employee reporting the suspicion to the proper authorities as required.”

Pack said teachers are reminded each year that they are legally required to report suspected abuse quickly. They don’t have to know all the facts about a particular case before making the call, he said.

“All you have to do is suspect – period. End of statement,” Pack said. “Somebody else’s job is to investigate.”

The Wichita district logged 1,982 reports of suspected abuse or neglect last school year, Pack said. The previous year, employees made about 1,600 reports, Pack said; the year before that, about 1,400 reports.

“I have to operate on the belief that people are taking it seriously and understand the policy, because to me, that’s a heck of a big number,” he said.

In April 2012, Donna L. Ford resigned her job as a kindergarten teacher at Cleaveland Elementary School and surrendered her teaching license after allegedly waiting about two weeks to report suspected child sexual abuse. The State Board of Education later voted to reinstate her license, but Ford no longer works in the district.

Details of that case – including when and how the teacher first suspected a student was being abused and why a report may have been delayed – were not made public. Sources familiar with the case said Ford informed her principal, social worker and counselor of her suspicions that a 6-year-old girl in her class was being abused by a teenager living in the child’s home.

Sources said Ford tried to file a report online to state officials, but her school computer malfunctioned while trying to submit it. It was unclear whether she or other employees tried to report suspicions via a 24-hour telephone hotline.

Ford could not be reached for comment Friday. Her case, believed to be the first time a Kansas teacher lost her job or had her license revoked for taking too long to report suspected abuse, illustrated what many perceive as gray areas of abuse reporting and the struggle teachers face whenever they suspect abuse.

Pack said most changes in the policy update board members will consider Monday are “subtle” and meant primarily to further clarify precisely when and how teachers should report suspected abuse.

“It may not be perfect, but I think it works pretty darn good,” Pack said. “We live in a society where … we try to protect each others’ kids and keep them safe.”

Related stories from Wichita Eagle