SVSU committee to review child abuse policy

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BENNINGTON — The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union (SVSU) is reviewing a child abuse and neglect policy after recent events in Shaftsbury caused aspects of it to come into question.

Several Shaftsbury residents recently called for a review of the policy after a Shaftsbury Elementary School student was allegedly touched inappropriately by a parent volunteer during a field trip and the school, allegedly, did not immediately report the incident to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), as required by state law. The Shaftsbury School Board has declined to comment on the issue, but said it would discuss it at next week's board meeting.

Superintendent Jim Culkeen said that, though he could not go into specifics, he believed proper procedure was followed.

"The reason I asked for this is, I was reading the paper and I saw some things, and I said, 'Are we missing something in terms of a policy?'" SVSU Policy Committee Chairman Leon Johnson said at the meeting on Monday. The policy was last modified in 2001. The committee quickly recognized several necessary changes, such as updating the name of DCF (the policy refers to the former Social and Rehabilitation Services division).

The policy, #5005: Child Abuse and Neglect, currently states: "Any school district employee, regardless of whether he or she is a 'mandated reporter', shall report suspected child abuse or neglect to the principal or his or her designee. If the principal or designee is the person suspected of child abuse or the person who suspects the abuse or neglect, a report should be made to the superintendent. Any school district employee who is a 'mandated reporter' (as defined below), in addition to reporting such suspected abuse or neglect to the principal, shall immediately report the suspected abuse or neglect to SRS at 442-8138. School district employees who are not 'mandated reporters' should also report suspected abuse or neglect to SRS, or cause such a report to be made."

According to DCF, any of the following qualify as mandated reporters: "An individual who is a) employed by a school district or an approved or recognized independent school or b) contracted and paid by a school district or an approved or recognized independent school to provide student services, including any school superintendent, school principal, headmaster of an approved or recognized independent school, school teacher, student teacher, school librarian, and school guidance counselor."

Committee member Holly Bahan of Shaftsbury was adamant the policy should be changed to better reflect contacting DCF is the first thing that needs to happen when abuse is suspected or reported, and the administration should not perform its own investigation to determine if abuse occurred.

"If this is so wrong, I think it needs to be done over," said Bruce Lee-Clark of the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, "We're never going to get this. It needs to be re-drafted, correctly. I would also say, any of that procedure stuff should be in the administrative regulations, so that it can be changed quickly when the Legislature changes DCF stuff again. We'd just say that 'Our policy is to comply with mandatory reporting and child abuse and neglect under the Vermont statutes,' and that's it."

Committee member Jackie Kelly of Bennington suggested having a clear policy that administrators can reference, in case parents complain about staff making reports to DCF about their children. "You can point to a policy, you can't point to an administrative reg.," she said.

Lee-Clark said he would come up with a new draft policy by next month's meeting. Once the committee approves a new draft policy, it must go to every individual board in the SVSU for approval.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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