Anne Arundel County school officials will begin a two-week amnesty on Monday for teachers and other school workers who report suspected child abuse, in hopes of nudging along the probe into the school system's handling of such allegations.
The idea of the amnesty is to encourage teachers to come forward with information about suspected child abuse without fear of losing their jobs for not contacting police or social workers earlier.
"We want the perpetrators," said Thomas Twombly, school board president. "It is very serious for us to cleanse the system. We have reason to understand that there are a number of people with guilty consciences."
The amnesty period, which will run through Oct. 18, applies only to people who were below the level of principal when they failed to report suspected abuse. It does not apply to school workers who committed abuse.
State law says teachers must report suspected child abuse, but the provision lacks a criminal penalty for those who don't.
At the administrative level, a school system can fire a teacher who does not report those suspicions. Teacher certification regulations permit the state to revoke the teaching license of anyone fired for not reporting suspected abuse.
No Maryland teaching certificate has ever been revoked for that reason, however.
The result, said the investigator and teachers union president, is that the law designed to elicit reports is doing just the opposite in this probe.
"I keep hearing there are people out there who want to talk, but didn't report it at the time. But they are afraid they are going be subjected to discipline," said Alan I. Baron, who is investigating the board's handling of child abuse cases. "I want to give people a second chance. I don't want them afraid to come forward."
Thomas Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, praised the move.
"It should put us on an even plane from now on," he said.
State Department of Education investigators were alarmed this summer by the number of teachers they interviewed in Anne Arundel County who did not know their obligations to report suspected abuse.
The school system last month trained counselors and other employees about regulations on child abuse and sexual harassment. All school workers are due to be taught this month.
Mr. Baron met for about an hour behind closed doors yesterday with about 15 teachers at Northeast High School at the faculty's request. Among the issues raised were fears that Mr. Baron's state-ordered probe would be a witch hunt.
Northeast teacher Ronald W. Price was convicted last month of having sex with three students.
Two other Northeast teachers art to be tried this fall on charges that they sexually abused students.