NSBA Applauds the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision Recognizing Protective Role of School Personnel in Child Abuse Reporting

June 18, 2015

Alexandria, Va.  (June 18, 2015) - The National School Boards Association (NSBA) praises today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ohio v. Clark. The Court considered whether the mandatory duty of teachers and other school personnel to report suspected child abuse cases made them law enforcement agents pursuant to the Confrontation Clause, a constitutional protection under the Sixth Amendment that grants those accused of a crime the right to confront witnesses. The Court also ruled on whether the child’s out-of-court statements to his teachers qualified as “testimonial,” making the statements a substitute for in-court trial testimony subject to cross examination.

Consistent with NSBA’s position as outlined in its “friend of the court” (amicus) brief, Justice Samuel Alito delivered the Court’s unanimous opinion and found that the school officials in this case should not be viewed as law enforcement agents, and the statements made by the young child to the teachers were not given with the “primary purpose of creating an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony.”

“[A]lthough statements to individuals other than law enforcement officers are not categorically outside the Sixth Amendment’s reach, the fact that L.P. [child] was speaking to his teachers is highly relevant,” said Justice Alito.  His opinion further noted that the teachers questioned the student out of their “immediate concern . . . to protect a vulnerable child who needed help.”

“The Court properly recognized that school teachers who ask children questions about suspected child abuse are not acting as law enforcement officers. We are pleased with the Court’s decision recognizing that school officials who question students in compliance with reporting requirements are acting to keep children safe,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel.

Prior to the Court’s decision, NSBA and leading teachers’ groups urged the Court to uphold the long established legal precedent recognizing the special position of school personnel with respect to the children who attend public schools.

“The Court’s decision rightfully takes into account the special context of school personnel who question students out of concern for the child’s welfare as much as out of the mandatory duty to report child abuse,” stated Francisco Negrón, NSBA General Counsel and Associate Executive Director, Legal Advocacy. “The Court’s decision is a win for NSBA and our co-signatories, but more importantly, a win for the many children protected from further abuse when a teacher asks them what’s wrong,” said Negrón.

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