In Antioch, a principal, special education director, assistant superintendent of human resources and special education coordinator all knew parents were complaining that a teacher was mistreating her autistic students.
Yet it was parents, not school personnel, who finally notified police. The Bay Area News Group reported last week that several families also filed a lawsuit alleging Mno Grant Elementary School teacher Theresa Allen-Caulboy slapped, pinched and verbally abused autistic students.
Failure to immediately report suspected abuse to authorities is a crime. In a widely publicized Santa Clara County prosecution last year, an Evergreen School District principal was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to act on a particularly graphic description of a teacher’s sexual abuse of an 8-year-old girl. But that didn’t faze Antioch school officials, who circled the wagons rather than follow the law when complaints against Allen-Caulboy piled up.
That’s why Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan’s bill to shore up the state law falls short: It continues to place responsibility for training and compliance on school administrators. They’d be required to set a reporting policy and inform staff annually — but clearly some of them either don’t understand or don’t like the law. That will shape local policies.
Children’s safety is too important to be left to local discretion, values or priorities. California needs a uniform program of precise training on the mandatory reporting law to be required annually for every school employee.
That would establish legal responsibility at every level of every school organization. An administrator might try to shrug off reports or protect a crony, but if every teacher and aide understands the legal requirement to call police, the odds turn against abusers.
Six weeks before police learned of the charges against Allen-Caulboy, special education director David Wax bragged that he and special education coordinator Kai Montgomery were able to “de-escalate” a complaining parent who had planned to file a police report. (Fortunately, they were wrong. The parent, Michele Smith, went to the police anyway.)
Writing to school Principal Michael Green, Wax said he and Montgomery assured Smith that “the site is conducting an investigation and that this process is confidential with due process rights being afforded to the teacher.”
That’s the crux of the problem. School employees, from teacher assistants to superintendents, seem more concerned with procedural rights of teachers than safety of students.
We saw that in Moraga cases involving teacher sexual abuse of students; in Brentwood, where a teacher kicked a 5-year-old child; and in another Antioch case involving a teacher who duct-taped an 8-year-old’s mouth shut. We still can’t believe the travesty in Evergreen.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson should be leading reform. He told the Contra Costa Times last week that a new “climate of accountability” is needed, and he’s right — but Buchanan’s current bill, which he now supports, is far too timid to stir the winds of change.