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Supreme Court Decision Avoids Putting Educators in Law Enforcement Role

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies that mandatory reporting laws exist to protect abused, neglected children and get them the support they deserve. The case of Ohio v. Clark, raised the question of whether a child’s statement to his teacher about being a victim of abuse is inadmissible in a criminal prosecution against his abuser because teachers and other educators should be considered law enforcement officials when they carry out their duty to report suspected abuse or neglect.

The National Education Association filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the view that educators’ valuable role as mandatory reporters and caregivers should not be compromised. In a unanimous decision, the Court agreed and ruled against putting educators in a law enforcement role.

The case stems from an incident in March 2010, when a teacher at a Head Start center in Cleveland, Ohio, noticed that one of her preschool students had what appeared to be a bloodshot and bloodstained left eye. Alarmed, the teacher consulted with a colleague and together the two educators—in their state-mandated role as reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect—submitted this information to law enforcement. Darius Clark, the boyfriend of the three-year-old’s mother, was soon arrested, charged and eventually convicted of felonious assault, child endangerment, and domestic violence.

CEA attorney Melanie Kolek indicated that CEA’s legal team was pleased with the Court’s decision, saying the lower court’s ruling could have potentially created a problematic quandary for educators. “We advise teachers that their job in mandated reporting is not necessarily to conduct an investigation but rather to recognize and obtain information to allow them to identify abuse and neglect, then make the necessary and timely call to the Department of Children and Families,” she said.

Kolek continued, “As Justice Alito states in his opinion for the majority, ‘Mandatory reporting statutes alone cannot convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed primarily at gathering evidence for the (criminal) prosecution.’ The decision assists Connecticut teachers in their role as mandated reporters, leaving the criminal investigation to those better suited to conduct the same.”

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