Wichita school board works to clarify suspected abuse policy

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If a teacher witnesses abuse on school grounds – perhaps walking in on a situation in a classroom or elsewhere – should the teacher call 911?

That answer was unclear Monday as the Wichita school board discussed proposed revisions to the district’s policy on reporting suspected abuse and neglect.

“This happened at Penn State, so I want to be really clear as a district,” said board member Joy Eakins. “Personally, I think we should be calling 911 in those kinds of situations and not our own security.”

The proposed policy does not expressly direct teachers or other district employees to call 911.

Rather, if an employee determines that a suspected abuse situation “indicates imminent harm the employee shall call (district) Security at 973-2100 to request law enforcement assistance, and then inform the building administrator,” the proposed policy says.

Board president Jeff Davis told Eakins: “I can guarantee you, once (district) security is on scene the police department is usually en route also. It’s a simultaneous call.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” Eakins said. “But I’m thinking, when I was a substitute in the district, I don’t know the number 973-2100. People know 911. That’s the emergency number. So to me, when there’s something of imminent harm happening – I don’t care if it’s on school grounds – that’s who you call.

“It’s not that I doubt our security team,” she said. “I’m just trying to understand why we would have somebody go look up this number when they know 911.”

Superintendent John Allison said, “If in doubt, you can dial 911.”

He said the district’s protocol for going through security “is something that’s been developed over time” and that he would bring the policy back to the board for further discussion before its final vote.

Terri Moses, the district’s director of security and a former deputy chief of the Wichita Police Department, did not attend Monday’s meeting. Allison said he wanted to consult with her and, “if we need more clarity, we’ll be able to address it.”

The policy 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.

The new policy would require employees to report suspected abuse by phone to state officials “as soon as suspicion arises” and “with only minimal questions to determine the nature of the incident.”

It also requires teachers to promptly notify their building principals or designees about their suspicions.

Board member Barbara Fuller requested more clarity in that section, saying the policy should stress that an employee report any suspected abuse first before notifying a principal.

Board members took no action on the policy Monday. They are expected to vote at their next meeting Sept. 9.

Also on Monday, the school board:

• Approved spending $49,600 for a soil study on land adjacent to Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary School. The study will check for potentially harmful gases in the soil, including methane. According to the agenda item, studies by an environmental consultant in 2009 and 2011 showed “buried vegetative matter” and other materials near Earhart that “could produce soil gases, including hydrocarbons.”

• Discussed a proposed policy on the use of physical restraint or seclusion when a student presents a danger to himself or others. A new state regulation requires districts to develop policies that describe when and how employees can use such restraints or other interventions.

• Approved spending up to $50,000 for initial repairs at College Hill Elementary School, which was significantly damaged in a fire on Aug. 12. The overall cost of repairs still is unclear, Allison said. He said it could be several months before the school at First and Clifton is ready for students again. Students started classes last week at the former Bryant Elementary School in west Wichita.

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