Wilton schools tighten child abuse, neglect policy

The Wilton Public School District has taken its approach to child abuse and neglect to a new level, following the Board of Education’s unanimous approval on Oct. 13 to revise Policy 5146.

The policy got a complete overhaul — even its name was changed from “Child Abuse/Neglect” to “Reports of Suspected Abuse.”

“A lot of the language in this policy in recommended by our attorneys based on changes in state statute,” Superintendent Kevin Smith explained at the board’s Sept. 22 meeting.

Aligned with Section 17a-101 of the Connecticut General Statute, the policy requires school employees to report if they have “reasonable cause to suspect or believe” that a child under 18 has been abused or neglected, had a non-accidental physical injury inflicted upon him or her, or is at imminent risk of serious harm.

The revised policy also requires employees to report if they suspect any student, “regardless of age,” has been sexually assaulted by a school employee.

According to the revised policy, suspicions may be based on factors including, but not limited to, observations, allegations, facts, or statements by a child, victim or third party.

Smith said the most important change to the policy is that it “makes everybody responsible.”

Responsibility


Under the revised policy, the responsibility of reporting child abuse or neglect no longer falls solely on “certain” employees designated “statutory mandated reporters” under state law but falls on all Wilton school employees.

Policy changes include “more clearly defined” terms, according to Smith.

The revised policy defines school employees as teachers, substitute teachers, school administrators, the superintendent, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, physicians, paraprofessionals, and coaches employed by the board or who work in one of the schools.

Any person who has regular contact with students and provides services to or on behalf of students enrolled in the district is also considered a school employee under the district’s policy.

Under state law, statutory-mandated reporters include “all school employees” and “any person who holds or is issued a coaching permit by the State Board of Education, is a coach of intramural or interscholastic athletics” and is at least 18 years old.

Reporting and investigating


Smith said the revised policy not only “describes what must be reported” but also “delineates the reporting responsibilities between employees considered mandated reporters under the law and those who are not.”

Statutory-mandated reporters are required to make oral reports of suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) commissioner or local law enforcement, and to the school principal or superintendent.

In cases involving suspected or believed abuse, neglect or sexual assault of a student by a school employee, the superintendent must “immediately notify the child’s parent or guardian that such a report has been made,” according to the policy.

Within 48 hours after making the oral report, the employee who first made an oral report must submit a written report to the DCF commissioner before “immediately” submitting a copy to the principal and superintendent.

Employees not considered statutory-mandated reporters are required to make only an oral report — followed by an “immediate written report” — to the superintendent. However, the policy states, a non-statutory mandated reporter may also report suspected child abuse, neglect or sexual assault directly to the DCF commissioner.

“The policy also specifies the contents of the reports,” Smith said last month, “and new to the policy is a description of how the superintendent or his designee can and should investigate suspected reports of child abuse.”

Rapid response team


As outlined in the new policy, the school district has established a confidential rapid response team to “work with the DCF in any suspected abuse investigations,” according to Smith.

The team consists of Smith, Safe School Climate coordinator Kim Zemo, Special Services Assistant Superintendent Ann Paul, Human Resources Director Maria Coleman, and School Resource Officer Rich Ross.

A draft of the Reports of Suspected Abuse policy is available here.