Excerpt from Omaha.com by Martha Stoddard / World-Herald Bureau
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