Reporting Child Abuse in Texas: School Employee Options
With the recent report that the Texas Education Agency opened 188 investigations into educator inappropriate relationships/sexual misconduct with students during 9/1/2014 - 8/31/2015, representing the sixth straight reporting year that the this number increased and an over 50% increase in the number of investigations opened when compared to the 2008-2009 reporting year, the issue of reporting such misconduct is gaining added importance. A news story that surfaced in North Texas late last week raised an important issue associated with when a school employoee suspects or knows a school colleague is neglecting or abusing a child: When reporting suspected or actual child abuse or neglect being committed by the colleague of a school employee, to whom may the report be made, and must school employees even inform their supervisors when they make a report?
The story, published in the 9/24/2015 online edition of the Dallas Morning News by Jennifer Emily (@dallascourts), tells of a former Prosper ISD teacher who claims that she came under fire from her supervisors for reporting a colleague's alleged inappropriate touching of a female student at Propser High School to municipal police, rather than to the school district's police department. According to the teacher, school officials "bullied, intimidated, and reprimanded" her for not reporting the alleged misconduct to the school police chief. The school district's assistant superintendent termed the communication to the teacher as a "procedural reminder," and not a reprimand.
So, to whom must an educator report suspected or real abuse or neglect? Texas Family Code Chapter 261, Section 103 (amended by the 84th Texas Legislature in SB 219), stipulates three possible "appropriate agencies:"
any local or state law enforcement agency;
the department (of Family and Protective Services); or
the state agency that operates, licenses, certifies, or registers the facility in which the alleged abuse or neglect occurred.
Thus, while a school employee may make a report to the school district's police department, the school employee may also make a report to any law enforcement agency, and is not obligated to report his/her knowledge or suspicions to school officials or to the school district's police department when making a report to another law enforcement agency. Further, requiring any notification to school officials before or after making a report would argubly compromise the confidentiality of the report and the identity of the reporter guaranteed by Texas Family Code Chapter 261, Section 201.
Finally, to the extent that the child abuse witnessed by the educator at school constitutes criminal activity, HB 1783, now codified at Tex. Educ. Code Section 37.148, permits school district or open-enrollment charter school employees to report a[ny] witnessed crime "to any peace officer with the authority to investigate the crime," and prohibits a school district or open enrollment charter school from adopting a policy that prohibits employees from reporting crimes witnessed at school or requires employees to report crimes witnessed at school "only to certain persons or peace officers."