Rhode Island lawmakers are re-considering the rules for reporting sexual abuse suspected of school staff. A 2016 law requires educators to report allegations of abuse to child welfare officials.
But teachers and principals say the law has caused confusion about who should report, and how.
The 2016 law closed a loophole revealed in the investigation into abuse allegations at St. George’s boarding school.
The loophole, first reported by Rhode Island Public Radio, created a question about whether schools were required report allegations of sexual abuse by their own staff. The law mandated that school staff report any allegations to the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
“There was no adequate follow-up, and so as a result each school had its own response, or lack of response,” said Peg Langhammer, director of Day One, a nonprofit that works with survivors of sexual abuse. “And some schools were not even aware that the law had changed.”
The proposed change to the law dictates a single person within each school must be designated to report to DCYF. That person would receive specific training said Langhammer.
“The next step is the Department of Education and DCYF come up with rules for how the reports are made to DCYF, and then with Department of Ed, it’s how reports are made within the school system to the leadership,” said Langhammer.
Langhammer says the proposal will set clear guidelines on who is responsible for reporting sexual abuse in schools. Three educators – two principals and a school psychologist – have been charged with failure to report abuse, since the 2016 law was enacted.