County school system will track student allegations of being abused

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March 23, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County school district has started a database to track allegations of student abuse, neglect and other inappropriate behavior by staff members.

The tracking requirement is part of a revised rule, issued by Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and presented to the school board last night, outlining how the district is to respond to such allegations.

The revision stems from a routine examination of district policies and rules, said Dale Rauenzahn, executive director of student support services. Nevertheless, he said, district officials were concerned they had no way of knowing when employees were accused of mistreating children multiple times, and how often such allegations were surfacing, except in cases where police or social services took action.

The revised rule also spells out procedures for school officials to contact the county Department of Social Services and police in cases of suspected abuse and neglect and notifying appropriate school district personnel.

Previously, the rule governed only suspected abuse of students by employees. It was expanded to include neglect and "inappropriate behavior," which Rauenzahn said includes verbal abuse.

Rauenzahn said the district will also use the information it gathers to offer employee assistance programs and other services to staff when appropriate.

Though response to suspected child abuse by parents is covered under another policy, discussion of the revision prompted debate among board members about whether the school district did all it could to protect Roy Lechner Jr., a 3-year-old preschool pupil at Battle Grove Elementary who died March 1. His mother has been charged with abuse in his death and police have reopened their investigation into the death of her other child in November.

In another matter, the school board was presented changes to Hairston's rule governing school closings and delays.

The revised rule requires elementary schools to contact a parent or guardian of every child on days when they are dismissing early, and to keep at school children whose parents or guardians cannot be reached.

The revised rule includes an outline of the procedure used to decide when to cancel weekend events. School system spokesman Charles A. Herndon said that came partly in response to confusion Jan. 22, when the district planned to go ahead with administration of the SAT despite storm warnings but had to cancel when some test proctors didn't show up.

Herndon said district officials wanted to clarify the process and put on the books protocol that is already followed. For example, after-school activities are automatically canceled when schools are closed or dismissed early, unless an early dismissal is due to hot weather.

"It does quite a bit in terms of clarifying much of what was not previously spelled out," Herndon said.

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