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NSBA Leads Education Groups Urging Supreme Court to Protect Teachers Required to Report Child Abuse

August 13, 2015

Alexandria, Va. (August 13, 2015) - The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), and 15 other national organizations filed an amicus brief, “friend of the court” in the U.S. Supreme Court in Schott v. O’Reilly (formerly Wenk v. O’Reilly) urging the Court to protect teachers and other school officials from claims arising out of their mandatory obligation to report instances of suspected child abuse. The case concerns whether teachers or other school personnel - required by state law to serve as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse - are entitled to qualified immunity.

The case asks the Court to hear and overturn a ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee) that makes mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse vulnerable to federal claims brought by an alleged abuser. NSBA and its joint amici argue that mandatory reporting requirements exist to protect the safety of children by encouraging reports of suspected abuse. To deny a teacher’s qualified immunity when he or she makes such a statutorily mandated report, could chill the decision to report suspected abuse. The failure to report diminishes the opportunity that the suspected abuse will be uncovered and stopped, increasing potential harm to children.

“It is a societal obligation to establish policy that protects children from further abuse at the earliest point possible,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, NSBA. “Subjecting school personnel to federal claims of retaliation risks having a chilling effect on school officials’ good faith efforts to report suspected abuse.”

The case involves the parent of a female teen who receives special education services in the state of Ohio under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Based on two teachers’ graphic reports to the Director of Pupil Services about questionable parental interaction with the student at home, and the student’s own statement, the administrator filed a report of suspected abuse. An investigation by state authorities found no incidence of abuse by the parent. The parent then brought suit in federal court asserting that school officials violated the First Amendment by making the report of suspected abuse in retaliation for the parent’s advocacy on behalf of his daughter. 

"Teachers, employees, school authorities and other mandatory reporters should not fear being sued for their efforts to protect children in Ohio,” stated Richard Lewis, Executive Director, OSBA. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with NSBA on this important issue, and urge the Court to overturn the Sixth Circuit's decision restoring the protections that allow school professionals to address suspected abuse."

NSBA, OSBA and their amici contend that the lower court’s decision may discourage child abuse reporters from notifying child protective services or law enforcement agencies of their suspicions, fearing legal claims against them personally. State law immunity exists precisely so that mandatory reporters who act in good faith are protected from such claims. 

“The Sixth Circuit ruling will discourage reporters from notifying child protective services or law enforcement agencies except in the most obvious cases of abuse,” said Francisco M. Negrόn, Jr., NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel. “We urge the Court to again recognize as it did in Ohio v. Clark the unique role that school personnel play in protecting children by reporting suspected abuse, and reversing the shortsighted decision of the Sixth Circuit.”

The following seventeen organizations joined the amicus brief: National School Boards Association, Ohio School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Professional Society on Abuse of Children, American School Counselors Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Council of Administrators of Special Education, International Municipal Lawyers Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Ohio Association of School Business Officials, Ohio Educational Service Center Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, School Social Workers of America Association, and Council for Exceptional Children.

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school board associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at www.nsba.org.

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