Clearer law on reporting suspected abuse sought Board member says too much is left 'to interpretation' by school employees

October 30, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Employees who failed to properly report child abuse allegations to social workers or police in nine instances cited in a recent investigation will be disciplined, but Anne Arundel County school board members agreed yesterday that the law on when to report such cases must be clarified.

"We don't need to define when to call to the nth degree, but the area has been left too much to interpretation, and there have been too many different interpretations," board member Joseph Foster said.

The law requires allegations to be reported if a school employee has "reason to believe" abuse has occurred.

A recent investigation showed that in nine cases from 1985 to 1993 in which abuse allegations were raised, the cases were investigated internally by county school system employees.

The Department of Social Services and the police were not notified or were notified late in the internal investigation.

As a result of the investigation, Superintendent C. Berry Carter II resigned effective Monday, defending his policy and citing extenuating circumstances, including cases in which parents said they wanted no intervention by Social Services or the police.

"One of the things this board has to deal with is how employees named in this and the Nov. 30 report will be disciplined," said Thomas Twombly, board president. Five of the nine teachers accused of committing child abuse no longer work for the school system.

Also yesterday, the school board and Alan I. Baron, the independent investigator who submitted the report and will complete his broader investigation Nov. 30, defended the actions of midlevel administrators who did not call an outside agency when consulted during internal investigations of alleged abuse.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Carter adopted a practice that did not conform to law -- that these cases be investigated by special assistants," Mr. Baron said.

Employees had the choice of obeying the law or obeying their boss, and Mr. Baron said he did not fault those who chose the latter. "They were not conscious wrongdoers," he said.

A portion of his report noted that the director of human resources -- Carol S. Parham, who has since been appointed acting superintendent -- had intervened in one of the nine cases.

Dr. Parham wrote a memo requesting that a special assistant investigate a complaint of alleged physical abuse after she was contacted by a principal in 1991, but Mr. Baron found no evidence of further investigation by either a special assistant or Social Services.

Dr. Parham was attending a dinner yesterday and was not available for comment.

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