PTA chief faults board for inaction

April 20, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland PTA president this week criticized the Anne Arundel County school board for not disciplining employees who failed to report their suspicions of alleged child abuse between 1985 and 1993.

"These are people who have a professional responsibility for children and are in a position to know what the laws and regulations are," said Vicki Rafel, president of the Maryland Parent Teachers' Association.

"We have to be concerned that this is being dismissed as something that's of no concern to anyone," she said. "We are concerned about the flat statement that no action will be taken against employees who failed to report child abuse."

Mrs. Rafel said she plans to attend tonight's 7:30 school board meeting at the headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis.

"I'm not planning on saying anything, but I'm going to show our support for the Anne Arundel Council of PTAs," she said. "This is certainly a very unusual situation in terms of the board's ability to cope with these issues."

School board members have not discussed the issue in public session, nor have they voted on a position. However, some board members have said the time and expense involved in an investigation would outweigh the benefit.

"The independent investigator, the state's attorney and the Police Department have all concluded that it would serve no useful purpose . . . to go back and start exhaustive investigations into who knew what, when and what they should have done," said Michael A. Pace, a school board member. "We fixed the system, and now everybody knows what the rules are and there won't be any excuses for the future."

Though there is no penalty under state law for not reporting child abuse, state and county school board regulations provide for disciplinary actions, including firing.

Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, first raised the issue after an investigation into the school system's mishandling of child abuse complaints.

The state school superintendent ordered the investigation after a teacher charged with child abuse said he'd had sexual relationships with students for 20 years without being caught.

In dispute are 30 cases that were not reported to the county Department of Social Services or police between 1985 and 1993. Alan I. Baron, a special investigator, discovered the cases during his probe into how the school system mishandled complaints of suspected child abuse.

When Mr. Baron delivered his report in December, he said he believed that employees who did not report their suspicions were operating under a widely accepted practice that former Superintendent C. Berry Carter II fostered during his years as deputy superintendent. Given this policy, it would be unfair to chastise those employees, Mr. Baron has said.

"The problem is that the policy on paper didn't mean anything" between 1985 and 1993, Mrs. Roeding said.

During that time the system handled its own investigations, rather than pass the information on to the police or social services as the law required.

"What if in the future we got another superintendent who said, 'Look the other way?' " asked Mrs. Roeding.

She also questioned the board's unwillingness to discipline employees who violated the child abuse reporting law, when the employees suspected of abusing students are being investigated and disciplined.

Mr. Pace said that "to open up a whole other layer at this point I believe is unwarranted. We see no useful purpose in going backward."

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