Wrong is Wrong…ALWAYS!

June 20, 2011

By Angela Liddle

Teacher surrenders teaching certificate read one headline. Teacher suspended due to allegations of sex with student read another. A third read Teacher suspended for allegedly giving a student a vibrator. All within the last few weeks and all within Pennsylvania. Where has common sense gone? For many of us we recall a time when teachers focused on lesson plans, helping students excel and monitoring after school detention. No doubt there are many very fine teachers in Pennsylvania, but there is a growing number who seem to not understand that they hold a professional position and by doing so are held to a standard of professional behavior and ethics. Recently, there have been some shout outs in the form of letters to editor and Op-ed pieces to change Pennsylvania’s child abuse law. While some may argue our state’s child abuse definition is too narrow, I say since we clearly have an absence of common sense we need to focus on strengthening the portions of the law that are causing the most challenges and limiting our ability to protect PA’s children. One of the problematic areas of PA’s Child Protective Services Law is the section addressing student abuse.

We hold school personnel to a different standard than we do parents and caregivers when it comes to non accidental harm to children. The language that defines student abuse is even narrower than the language that defines child abuse. In essence some injuries caused by parents and caregivers which are considered to be abuse by law would not come close to being considered abuse if committed by a school employee to a student. The student would have had to suffer a serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury would include injuries that create a substantial risk of death or which causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ. Surely you can see that does not make sense, nor is it in the best interest of child safety.

The reporting process for student abuse is also different. The school administrator must report to law enforcement and if law enforcement finds sufficient evidence of abuse, they communicate with the county children and youth office. If the county children and youth office substantiates the abuse, the school employees name is forwarded to ChildLine, our state’s central registry. If the county children and youth agency never gets the report of student abuse, the allegations do not get investigated. School employees who have committed student abuse never have their names entered into the central registry. Even if they lose their teaching certification, they can still clear a child abuse history clearance and get a job working with children. How does this make sense? If you would like to see the return of common sense and higher accountability within our schools, encourage your legislator to strengthen our Child Protective Services Law regarding student abuse. Go to www.legis.state.pa.us. Send an email or call to voice your concern about the handling of student abuse because wrong is wrong…always!