Educators who suspected child abuse say they were told to check with parents first

Categories: News and Events, Other, Our Perspective

Excerpt from by Martha Stoddard / World-Herald Bureau

LINCOLN — A dispute sparked by a student arriving at school with a scratched face and dried, smelly feces on his hands and wrists wound up in court Monday.

North Platte teacher Christie Copper and school guidance counselor Stephen Spiehs reported the late March incident to state authorities as suspected child abuse or neglect.

On Monday, the two filed a complaint in Lincoln County District Court claiming that school administrators responded to the case by directing them to check with parents before making future reports.

“The school district’s directive…is contrary to Nebraska law and potentially places children in danger,” said Scott Norby, their attorney.

According to the district court petition, the issue arose after a student arrived at school on March 24 with a red scratch on one side of his face, a black, soot-like substance on the other side of his face and unkempt hair.

It said he had dried, smelly feces on his palms, wrists and fingernails, acted very tired and was licking his hands and rubbing his eyes excessively.

He appeared thirsty and very hungry, quickly downing the milk that was offered to him and immediately wanting cereal.

Copper and Spiehs contacted the school resource officer and then the State Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s child welfare agency.

Later that day Danny McMurtry, the school principal, emailed the two, saying that the child’s father was “extremely displeased” about getting a phone call from police without notification.

McMurtry told them that in future cases of suspected abuse or neglect they should contact the child’s parents unless the child was in immediate danger. He said the parents would be told at that time that protocol required a report to authorities.

According to the petition, Copper and Spiehs met and talked with the principal about their concerns with the email and the requirement to contact parents.

When he refused to change the requirement, they filed a formal grievance.

In the grievance, the two said Ramaekers told Copper he had been informed the student had chocolate on his fingers from eating a toaster pastry. It also claimed that Ramaekers said the manner in which a situation should be handled depended on the identity of the parent.


Just as adults have a responsibility to create safe environments that allow children to feel comfortable disclosing, school administrators have a responsibility to create environments that encourage teachers to report suspected or disclosed abuse.

By requiring parents to be contacted before law enforcement and child protective services are able to investigate, school administration failed to protect the child and support staff members. Actions like this could result in retribution against the child, destruction of evidence, and in the worst possible outcome, a child being placed back into the home with his or her abuser.

The focus of any youth serving organization should be on the development and well-being of the children in its care. We applaud the guidance counselor and teacher who demanded change that protected kids, and who didn’t take no for an answer.

Learn more about reporting abuse: CLICK HERE

4 responses to “Educators who suspected child abuse say they were told to check with parents first

  1. Bottom line, the law is the law. I am appalled that a North Platte administrator would Not put a childs welfare above all else. The idea that Mr. McMurtry would be concerned that a father was screaming at him on the phone because the teachers did the right thing is beyond the pale. Then the fact that the interm Superintendent Mr. Ramekers was also not following the law, I couldn’t believe it! I am 77 years old and was very active in the North Platte Public schools while all five of my children attended these schools. I am grateful that Mrs. Copper and Mr. Spiehs have done the right thing and the law dictates the grievience be in favor of them and mainly the child. Thank you.

  2. I recently started a petition on because of a situation in which someone I knew had child erotica pictures, which are perfectly legal. I was wondering if your group would be able to help gain more signatures. If so, please see

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  3. I commend both Christie Copper and Stephen Spiehs for filing a complaint and doing everything they can to help the boy and all other children who have been or are being abused! By contacting the parent first they are putting the child in danger! I hope the parent of this boy is held accountable for his/her actions!!! I hope that our state will reverse the protocol of calling the parent and instead call the proper authorities when school teachers suspect this kind of abuse!!!

  4. too many times, it is the parents who are the abusers, and the child welfare personnel are too timid or uneducated, to help the children.

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