NSBA and Leading Teachers’ Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Reverse Ohio High Court Ruling Imperiling Child Abuse Reporting Processes

November 24, 2014

Alexandria, VA (Nov. 24, 2014) — The National School Boards Association (NSBA), in support of the State of Ohio, has joined the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) today in filing a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Ohio v. Clark. At issue in this case is whether teachers or other school personnel who serve as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse should be treated as law enforcement agents for purposes of the Confrontation Clause, a constitutional protection under the Sixth Amendment that grants those accused of a crime the right to confront witnesses.

The joint brief argues that treating school personnel as law enforcement agents misunderstands their role and purpose in reporting suspected child abuse and may have unintended and adverse consequences. The co-signatories argue that when teachers and other school personnel question students about physical injuries or behavioral changes, their primary concern is the health, safety and welfare of those children, not criminal prosecution. The brief points out that the Court has recognized in other constitutional contexts that law enforcement standards are ill suited to the responsibility of schools to ensure student welfare.

“This case has serious implications for school districts and the vast array of school employees who cooperate with community and government agencies to prevent harm to children,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “Misclassifying mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect as criminal investigators overlooks their primary role as educators responsible for student safety and learning.”

NSBA and the other co-signatories urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the long established legal precedent recognizing the special position of school personnel with respect to the children who attend public schools.  While mandatory reporting statutes in all 50 states require school personnel to report suspected abuse, they were never intended to deputize educators who report suspected abuse as law enforcement personnel. Moreover, it is the clear responsibility of child protective services or law enforcement agencies - not school districts or school personnel - to investigate reports and determine whether further legal proceedings should be initiated against a potential abuser.

“The Ohio Supreme Court decision is inherently flawed and should be overturned,” said NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “The clear focus of educators centers on the safety of the child, not the possible prosecution of the abuser. School personnel often seek to identify the perpetrator of abuse for reasons other than prosecutorial ones, such as obtaining child protective services or remedying a bullying situation.”

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