PITTSBURGH, November 27, 2012 – Pleased that the state Task Force on Child Protection’s report today supported his call provide additional protections for school students who are abused by school employees, state Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) today urged that lawmakers quickly enact recommendations issued in the report.

My legislation (Senate Bill 549) has been in a holding pattern in the Senate since 2005,” Fontana said. “I hope that this report will finally spur legislative action on these recommendations that would prevent child abuse and protect kids.”

Fontana’s bill would require reporting and investigating any abuse against a student by a school employee, regardless of who makes the report. Currently, reporting and investigation is only required if the abuse rises to the level of a serious bodily injury, and if the report is made by law enforcement or a county welfare official.

The task force report largely underscores Fontana’s proposal, calling to end the different and confusing child abuse definitions and reporting requirements in schools and mandating that school personnel report suspected child abuse directly to ChildLine rather than a school administrator.

“We have a public and ethical responsibility to protect our children and ensure their safety in school,” Fontana said. “Regardless of who is suspected of abuse, each case should be handled the same.”

Fontana’s bill was spurred by a constituent call from a mother who said her son had been taken to the emergency room with open and bleeding brush burns, choke marks around his neck, and broken blood vessels in his face, all caused by a teacher who claimed he was simply restraining the boy.

When three different people (the emergency room doctor, the parent, and the social service agency care worker assigned to the boy) reported the incident to Childline, they were told that existing state law prevented 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, the mother was appalled that the normal reporting procedures for abuse were not available for her son.

Fontana said today’s long-awaited task force report also calls for redefining child abuse, harsher penalties against abusers and those who fail to report child abuse, expanding the list of people mandated to report suspected abuse, implementing an emergency 6-1-1 emergency phone contact for reporting child abuse and improving training and education for those required to detect and report child abuse.

“I am pleased with the task force’s work on this issue,” Fontana said. “But the time for talk and study is over. It’s high time the General Assembly take up these proposals and begin putting these additional protective measures into law.

“I will urge that the Senate take up these proposals when it reconvenes in January.”

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