PITTSBURGH, March 2, 2010 — State Senator Wayne D. Fontana (D-Brookline) has reintroduced legislation that would protect children from abuse by teachers or other school employees.
“It is outrageous that school employees — individuals students trust and look up to — are held to a lesser standard when it comes to child abuse,” Fontana said. “It’s just plain wrong.”
Fontana’s bill (Senate Bill 1243) would require that all child abuse cases be investigated in the same manner for every report, regardless of who the abuser is.
Currently, child abuse cases where the alleged perpetrator is a school employee do not require a report unless it rises to the level of a “serious bodily injury” which is equivalent to the loss of a limb or an organ that stops functioning, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation.
The Fontana bill includes school employees in the general provisions of the Child Protective Services Law to ensure that all suspected cases of child abuse are treated the same, regardless of the perpetrator or who reports the abuse.
“Our schools should have the highest standards for protecting students and aggressively going after child abusers,” Fontana said. “My bill would strengthen the requirements for reporting cases of suspected child abuse and expand the basis for triggering investigations.”
Fontana said the legislation was prompted a few years ago when a boy was taken to the emergency room with open brush burns and broken blood vessels in his face indicating that he had been choked, all caused by a teacher who claimed he was simply restraining the boy.
When three different people (parent, emergency room doctor, and social service agency worker assigned to the boy) reported the incident to the state’s “Childline” hotline, they were told the law did not allow for investigation because the abuse did not rise to the level of a serious bodily injury and because the report had not come through a law enforcement or county welfare official.
Although charges were ultimately brought against the teacher for the injuries to the boy, Fontana said he was appalled that the normal reporting procedures for abuse were not available for that student.
The Fontana bill won unanimous support in the Senate Committee on Aging and Youth last session, but never reached the full Senate for a final vote. He said he is confident the bill will pass this session since it already has 33 bipartisan co-sponsors and includes minor changes requested by the Disability Rights Network and Pennsylvania School Boards Association. It has again been referred to the Committee on Aging and Youth.